Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How To: Shooting Fireworks

Are you planning going out on the 4th of July to shoot fireworks? Here are some helpful hints to taking fireworks photos in your area.

(All photos below are taken at about 100mm @ ISO 100 F11 - F22 for 1-5 seconds. )

1. Get to your location EARLY and decide where to take photos 

You'll need to get to your location early so you can set up your photography gear quickly and time to do some test runs before the big show. You'll want to know where you are in relationship to the fireworks are being launched. You might want to:

  • consider taking photos with trees, buildings, or people in the foreground to show scale of the fireworks OR
  • simply taking photos of the fireworks in the sky. 
Whatever you choose, make sure to set up early. 

In the photo below, our fireworks were above the water, and there was a ship moored in the distance that I used to take photos.

I've been known to arrive 4-5 hours ahead of the fireworks display to set up "camp" in specific locations. DH & I will bring a picnic, blanket, food, and warm drinks. 

 2) Use a tripod 

A tripod is a MUST for shooting fireworks. You need to shoot your photos with a slow shutter speed, and a tripod is an absolute necessity for preventing out-of-focus images. Trust me, you're not going to be able to hold the camera still for the amount of time necessary to take a photo.

Also, make sure no one will accidentally bump into the tripod during shooting. I tend to hang my camera bag or a sandbag on the tripod to help weigh it down so it won't move. 

3) Set Your Camera Settings ahead of time

During a fireworks show, you're not going to have time to make a lot of adjustments to your camera. So, you want to set your camera ahead of time and just take photos (which is why you should arrive early). Here are three things you need to do:

a) Use slow shutter speed. 

You want to capture a good deal of the actual fireworks instead of a few scant moments. I tend to use extremely slow shutter speeds…as in SECONDS. I tend to shoot firework photographs anywhere from 1-5 seconds.

b) Use an increased F-stop (or Smaller aperture)
Use a smaller aperture (f11 - f22). Why these settings? Because if you are using a slow shutter speed, it means that you will let light in for a longer period of time. If you use a large aperture setting (such as F2.0, F4.0), all you're going to get is a white photograph.

c) Manually focus your lens before the show starts

Auto focus is not going to help you take good fire work photos. There isn't enough light or contrast to let auto focus work. The trick is to set up your camera early and take a few test shots. Use something in the distance to help focus your lens --- maybe there is a tree in the distance, maybe it's a plane, or a building. 

Use those to set up your focal length of your camera.

4) Use a remote shutter release 

Because you're using such slow shutter speeds, any movement or shaking in the camera will cause motion blur. Even pressing on the shutter can cause movement in your camera. 

Consequently, a good remote shutter release will help you take those photos. There are cabled versions that physically attached to the camera and wireless versions. I have a wireless version that I hold and count for X number of seconds. I tend to press the shutter release when I see the fireworks launch into the air, and count out the seconds, or whenever I hear 2-3 pops of the fireworks. 

5) Don't Stop Shooting.

Once you have set up your camera properly, all that is left for the fireworks display. There's a certain amount of luck trying to get good fireworks shot. You won't have time to look at your photos during the fireworks show, only afterwards. So keep your finger on that shutter release and keep shooting.

I hope that all of you have a safe and sane 4th of July weekend. I would love to see your photos!