How to Photograph Fireworks
Just in time for Independence Day! If you read my post on Photographing Waterfalls then you are in good shape for capturing the colorful explosions that July 4th brings! You won’t need any filters, but you will need a tripod and a cable release if you have one. If you don’t have the cable release you can use the timer mode on your camera but it requires some on-the-fly thinking about pressing the shutter button in time to get the shot – you’ll also be limited in most cases to a 30″ exposure.
1. Set up your tripod, attach your camera, and secure your camera strap.
2. Use manual mode and dial your settings to f/8 or f/11 for 1/2 a second at ISO 100 or 200 and manually focus your lens to infinity to start. Depending on your environmental situation and ambient light you will need to make some adjustments.
3. Find a nice location with an interesting foreground. I always shoot near a canal and the reflections really increase the interestingness of the shot.
4. If you go to the same display every year, you should already know where the fireworks will be blowing up in the sky so arrive a little early and get set up, and take a few test shots for composition. I recommend varying your camera’s orientation during the display too. If this is your first time seeing a firework display at the location don’t be afraid to ask the staff where in the sky you should look or for the best vantage point. If there is no staff around, inquire to the people around you as they may know!
5. Try to incorporate the on-lookers watching the show too! It’s not all about the fireworks themselves, but the spirit of the people in which the holiday means the most too. I know, I know, it’s hard to do this in the when you’re virtually blind.. fumbling around in the dark isn’t fun, so scout this out early.
6. Don’t forget to get up close! If you have a zoom lens, use it. Tight shots are really cool too, even if you don’t get the entire explosion in the frame. Just remember that the farther you zoom in the more open-shutter time you will need, or a change in your aperture.
7. There are lots of other factors to consider, you don’t know just how much ambient light will be around. If your camera has a “bulb” mode, use it – this works best with a shutter release cable, without one you will be left holding the shutter button down and more then likely will end up with blur. You can quickly increase or decrease the time the shutter is open between shots without having to move your camera.
8. Arrive early and capture the people and other festivities. This is a great opportunity to approach people in a public setting, while being friendly and ask to take their picture.
9. Put your camera down and make sure you get to see some of the show not looking through your viewfinder. Generally, once I have my composition set in both portrait and landscape modes (so I can switch easily), and have the light metered, focus right and my settings perfect, I watch the show and just press the button when the time is right (usually just after you hear the POP).
10. Try not to CHIMP after you have your settings correct – so there’s still some surprise when you get home.