Tag Archives: how to photograph fireworks

How To Photograph Fireworks

Multiple Shells

Its heading to that time again, its Bonfire Night and the kids are raring to go, you have got them to the venue and now you want to capture their faces on film …. This is where it generally goes awry.

We understand the challenges of trying to take a photograph in what is often poor light, night-time and the fireworks are moving but once you are aware of the basic principles, it is really quite easy.

Before we go telling everyone how to do it, remember that irrespective of the equipment being used, you should still be able to take some really good snaps. Fireworks have the benefit of being really bright so even with a cheap and cheerful camera, some good images should be possible. Since the sensors on compact cameras and camera phones don’t tend to be as large as on the average DSLR, motion blur can be a significant issue. Take extra care to hold your camera as still and steady as possible. If your camera phone can capture video, that might be an even better option, especially for the grand finale!

As well as camera phones, there are a number of point and shoot cameras on the market which will also include a special fireworks shooting mode – this generally has an icon which looks like a bunch of fireworks – however, if your does not, this is not the end of the world. Please remember that night mode is not the same as firework mode.

• Find a suitable launch site.

• Situate yourself above ground level – generally some distance away.

• Avoid all external light sources so don’t stand under street lights.

• Check wind speed and direction, you don’t want to be stood in the pathway of the smoke.

• Consider including scenery in your pictures, both to offer a sense of scale and to keep your compositions interesting.

• Spectators can be a great way to capture the excitement of a fireworks display and gives you the opportunity to play around with techniques such as silhouetting. You could also consider including buildings, monuments, and similar structures as an addition to the fireworks themselves.

• As with most low-light photography, you will get the best results if you use a tri-pod.

• Turn off flash and auto focus – set it to manual focus and infinity.

• The beauty of fireworks isn’t just in the explosion itself, but in the trails of light that blossom out and slowly fade away as they fall. You’ll have to use relatively slow shutter speeds to capture the whole show.

• Play with your camera’s settings and experiment with different shutter speed and aperture settings to see what works best – you don’t want grainy messes or a washed out blur

Whatever your plans are for this Bonfire Night, don’t forget to bring your camera! From a huge national fireworks extravaganza to your own backyard barbecue’s, a little planning and a little luck will reward you with beautiful photographs. Just remember to follow your firework code and be safe!

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Fireworks in persective

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Taking photographs of fireworks is not as easy as point and click, there are many things to consider, such as perspective. A picture of a firework is always going to be cool – that’s a given, they are fireworks after all – but it can be simple to make them even cooler by thinking about whats in the background or foreground. This often gives a picture more life and can really make a run-of-the-mill image into a great one. Take the picture above for example, without looking to closely at safety distances (it does look a bit too close to the buildings) the close proximity of the buildings makes the firework effect seem more alive and the colours more vivid, the reflection of the coloured light on the building makes this picture far more interesting than with just the firework alone.

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Do you want to know how to photograph fireworks?

Fireworks Displays are something that evoke a lot of emotion in people as they are not only beautiful and spectacular to watch but they also are often used to celebrate momentous occasions.

I’ve had many emails from fans asking how to photograph fireworks displays, quite a few of whom have expressed concern that they might just be too hard to really photograph. My response is always the same – ‘give it a go – you might be surprised at what you end up with’.

My reason for this advice is that back when I bought my first ever SLR (a film one) one of the first things I photographed was fireworks and I was amazed by how easy it was and how spectacular the results were. I think it’s even easier with a digital camera as you can get immediate feedback as to whether the shots you’ve taken are good or not and then make adjustments.

Of course it’s not just a matter of going out finding a fireworks display – there are, as usual, things you can do to improve your results. With 5th November just around the corner I thought I’d share a few fireworks digital photography tips:

1. Use a Tripod

Perhaps the most important tip is to secure your digital camera to something that will ensure it doesn’t move during the taking of your shots. This is especially important in photographing fireworks simply because you’ll be using longer shutter speeds which will not only capture the movement of the fireworks but any movement of the camera itself. The best way to keep your camera still is with a tripod (read our series on tripods and how to use and buy them). Alternatively – keep in mind that there are other non Tripod options for beating camera shake.

2. Remote Release

One way to make sure your camera is completely still during fireworks shots is to invest in a remote release device. These will vary from camera to camera but most have some sort of accessory made for them. The other way of taking shots without touching your camera is to use the self timer. This can work but you really need to be able to anticipate shots well and its very very hit and miss (read more on remote shutter releases).

3. Framing Your Shot

One of the most difficult parts of photographing fireworks is working out where to aim your camera. The challenge you’ll face in doing this is that you generally need to aim your camera before the fireworks that you’ll be photographing goes off – anticipation is key. Here are a few points on getting your framing right.

* Scope out the location early – Planning is important with fireworks and getting to the location early in order to get a good, unobstructed position is important. Think about what is in the foreground and background of your shots and make sure you won’t have people’s heads bobbing up into your shots (also consider what impact you’ll have on others around you also). Take note of where fireworks are being set up and what parts of the sky they are likely to be shot into – you might also want to try to ask some of those setting up the display for a little information on what they are planning. Also consider what focal lengths you might want to use and choose appropriate lenses at this time (rather than in the middle of the show).
* Watch your Horizons – One thing that you should always consider when lining up fireworks shots is whether your camera is even or straight in it’s framing. This is especially important if you’re going to shooting with a wide focal length and will get other background elements in your shots (ie a cityscape). Keeping horizons straight is something we covered previously on this site and is important in fireworks shots also. As you get your camera on your tripod make sure it’s level right from the time you set up.
* Vertical or Horizontal? – There are two main ways of framing shots in all types of photography, vertically (portrait) or horizontally (landscape). Both can work in fireworks photography but I personally find a vertical perspective is better – particularly as there is a lot of vertical motion in fireworks. Horizontal shots can work if you’re going for more of a landscape shot with a wider focal length of if you’re wanting to capture multiple bursts of fireworks in the one shot – but I don’t tend to go there that often.
* Remember your framing – I find that when I photograph fireworks that I spend less time looking in my viewfinder and more looking at the sky directly. As a result it’s important to remember what framing you have and to watch that segment of the sky. Doing this will also help you to anticipate the right time for a shot as you’ll see the light trails of unexploded rockets shooting into the sky.

4. Focal Length?

One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. I generally shoot at a wider focal length than a tight one but during a show will try a few tighter shots (I usually use a zoom lens to give me this option) to see if I can get lucky with them. Of course zoomed in shots like the one to the left can be quite effective also. They enable you to really fill the frame with great color. Keep in mind however that cropping of your wider angle fireworks shots can always be done later to get a similar impact in your photography.

5. Aperture

A common question around photographing fireworks displays is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to get them but in reality it’s quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit is quite bright. I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well and would usually shoot somewhere between f/8 to f/16.

6. Shutter Speed

Probably more important to get right than aperture is shutter speed. Fireworks move and as a result the best photographs of them capture this movement meaning you need a nice long exposure. The technique that I developed when I first photographed fireworks was to shoot in ‘bulb’ mode. This is a mode that allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter (preferably using a remote shutter release of some type). Using this technique you hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding (generally a few seconds).

You can also experiment with set shutter speeds to see what impact it will have but I find that unless you’re holding the shutter open for very long exposures that the bulb technique works pretty well.

Don’t keep your shutter open too long. The temptation is to think that because it’s dark that you can leave it open as long as you like. The problem with this is that fireworks are bright and it doesn’t take too much to over expose them, especially if your shutter is open for multiple bursts in the one area of the sky. By all means experiment with multiple burst shots – but most people end up finding that the simpler one burst shots can be best.

7. ISO

Shooting at a low ISO is preferable to ensure the cleanest shots possible. Stick to ISO 100 and you should be fine.

8. Switch off your Flash

Shooting with a flash will have no impact upon your shots except to trick your camera into thinking it needs a short exposure time. Keep in mind that your camera’s flash will only have a reach of a few meters and in the case of fireworks even if they were this close a flash wouldn’t really have anything to light except for some smoke which would distract from the real action (the flashing lights).Switch your flash off.

9. Shoot in Manual Mode

I find I get the best results when shooting in manual exposure and manual focus modes. Auto focusing in low light can be very difficult for many cameras and you’ll end up missing a lot of shots. Once your focusing is set you’ll find you don’t really need to change it during the fireworks display – especially if you’re using a small aperture which increases depth of field. Keep in mind that changing focal lengths will mean you need to need to adjust your focusing on most lenses.

10. Experiment and Track Results

Throughout the fireworks display periodically check your results. I generally will take a few shots at the start and do a quick check to see that they are OK before shooting any more. Don’t check after every shot once you’ve got things set up OK (or you’ll miss the action) but do monitor yours shots occasionally to ensure you’re not taking a completely bad batch.

Also experiment with taking shots that include a wider perspective, silhouettes and people around you watching the display. Having your camera pointed at the sky can get you some wonderful shots but sometimes if you look for different perspectives you can get a few shots that are a little less cliche and just as spectacular. Most of the best shots that I’ve seen in the researching of this article have included some other element than the fireworks themselves – whether it be people, buildings, landmarks or wider cityscape perspectives.

More Tips from our Readers

* “Find Out the Direction of the Wind – You want to shoot up wind, so it goes Camera, Fireworks, Smoke. Otherwise they’ll come out REALLY hazy.”
* “Also, I find that if you shoot from a little further back and with a little more lens, you can set the lens to manual focus, focus it at infinity and not have to worry about it after that.”
* “Remember to take advantage of a zero processing costs and take as many pictures as possible (more than you’d normally think necessary). That way, you’ll up your chances of getting that “perfect” shot.”
* “Make sure you are ready to take pictures of the first fireworks. If there isn’t much wind, you are going to end up with a lot of smoke in your shot. The first explosions are usually the sharpest one.”
* “Get some black foam core and set your camera to bulb. Start the exposure when the fireworks start with the piece of foam core in front of the lens. Every time a burst happens move the foam core out of the way. You will get multiple firework bursts in one exposure”

* “Another tip I would add to this is pre-focus if possible (need to be able to manually focus or lock down focus for good) before the show starts so other elements in the frame are sharp They did mention that you only need to focus once but its a lot easier to take a few shots before the show starts and check them carefully rather than wait until the show has begun and you are fiddling with focus instead of watching fireworks!”

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