Ten Tips For Making Better Photos of Fireworks
In the past I have made a few posts with some tips for making better photos of fireworks. Over the course of the last few years I have found some things that have made my fireworks pictures better as time goes on. These rules are not iron clad. In fact rule number one is to always use a tripod, and in a couple of the photos featured here I did not have a tripod with me. The photo above showing the fireworks at Disney World was shot hand held. The tips are things though that will help your photos get that extra wow factor. With the 4th of July just a couple of days away this is the perfect time to take a look at shooting fireworks.
1. Use a tripod – This is probably the most important tip on this list. You can get good results without a tripod, but it is very hard to do so. A tripod lets you keep your shutter open longer, and therefore get the long trails of the fireworks. A couple of quick tripod tips here. Always keep your tripod as low as possible. Remember when the fireworks start it will be dark where you are. Keeping your tripod low reduces the fall if it is tripped over. If you are in a crowded area make sure that you are not putting someone in danger with your tripod. Your eyes will be in the sky so get some help here.
2. If your camera has one set it to bulb mode – Setting your camera to bulb mode allows you to control the length of your exposure. You can start the exposure when the mortar is in the air, and end it when you want. This gives you the flexibility to shoot one blast or several. If you do not want to be in bulb mode you need to be in manual mode. Your camera will try and expose for the dark sky blowing the fireworks out.
3. Use a cable release or the self timer to release the shutter – If you are using bulb mode you will want to use a cable release. You will introduce movement into the photo if you try and press the shutter button twice during the exposure. A cable release will allow you to get your hands off of the camera.
4. Use the lowest ISO that you are comfortable with (ISO 100) – Using a low ISO at night will give you a longer shutter speed and also reduce noise.
5. Before it gets completely dark focus on an object very far away and then switch your lens to manual focus (If you have tape you can tape it down here as well so that it doesn’t accidentally get bumped). Your camera will find it hard to find focus in the dark so make sure that you have that taken care of before the sun goes down.
6. While you are there early you can pick out a good spot to photograph the fireworks from. You can always just photograph the fireworks, but the shot may be much better if you have something of interest in the foreground as well. Local buildings or landmarks give your pictures place and scale. In the photo above I wanted to show Victory Field along with the signage outside of the ballpark in the fireworks shot.
7. Shoot multiple bursts – A single shot can look great, but multiple shots look even better. If you don’t want to let your exposure blow out too much you can cover your lens in between shots. As the next burst is going up remove the cover to capture the next one. In the shot above from Disney World the stacked bursts of fireworks work really well for me. They give the show the look of the grand finale long before that happens.
8. Look around you – The fireworks are putting off a great colorful light. They may be illuminating those around you. Bring a second camera to capture this moment. If you are there with family after you have found your settings you can run the controls with one hand. Stay in the moment so that you are not shut out from your loved ones.
9. Basic settings – As a starting point I would say that you should start with an f-stop of f/8 or f/11. With an ISO of 100 you can leave your shutter open longer. That is where you must experiment. The sky is very dark, but the fireworks are super bright. Once you blow out the highlights they cannot be brought back. Depending on the size of the burst and your distance from it I would say that anywhere from 3-9 seconds is a good starting point. The photo above was taken for 21 seconds. That is where the fun can be is coming up with the right shutter time for your situation. There will be a lot of bursts so you have plenty of time to practice. When the finale starts and you have a good settings close down your aperture to a stop or two to account for the added light.
10. Have fun! – This is a holiday after all. Don’t let your need to get the perfect fireworks shot get in the way of time with your family. This can be an exercise that everyone can get involved in.