Every year you’ve seen pictures of fireworks that other people take and post online. Every year, you take many pictures that don’t do the fireworks justice, so you refuse to share your own images. But this year is different because you have help! Keep reading for some tips and techniques on how to photograph fireworks.
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Photographing fireworks probably seems like a difficult task. You may have tried it and taken hundreds of blurry, completely black, or overexposed (very bright) images while only having a few that are worthy of keeping. I’ve been there, so let me help you get started. In this short tutorial, you will learn the basics of how to photograph fireworks. This tutorial is not meant to be an exhaustive lesson but rather a starting point for you to experiment on your own and share some of the incredible fireworks pictures you take after learning a few fundamental techniques.
First, let’s go over a few requirements on what you need to photograph fireworks.
1) Tripod or similar device/object to steady your camera for multiple seconds without movement.
2) DSLR camera (recommended), compact point and shoot, or iOS/Android with an app to control shutter speed. My favorite is the Camera FV5 iOS and Android App: http://www.camerafv5.com/
3) Fireworks. I recommend someone else shoot them while you snap.
Personally, I use a DSLR because I like the wide range of available functions. I can get a shot of some fireworks one second and then snap a quick image of my daughter’s expression after seeing the show. However, just because you don’t have access to a DSLR doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to shoot good fireworks images.
Fireworks Photography Tutorial
Step 1: Location and Setup
Plan the shot. Look for a place away from objects that will obstruct your view of the fireworks. If possible, make sure you have enough room to sit comfortably while taking the shots because 20 minutes crouched awkwardly on barrier rocks with waves crashing over your feet is uncomfortable. Worth the shot? Yes. But uncomfortable nonetheless. So plan the photo by taking into account power lines, trees, and the flow of people traffic around you. Keep in mind that just as you don’t want someone else in your picture, they probably don’t want you in theirs. Be courteous to others.
Once you have your location picked out, set up your tripod, make sure you can trigger the shutter button without moving the device. Please take a couple of practice shots while it’s still light outside, and make sure everything is in your image that you want in the firework image later. Maybe there is a unique building or landmark that you could include in your shot. Using a bright flashlight to paint light on the building or object will cause it to stand out in the image and add unique lighting to your final image. Try moving the light on the object while the shutter is open on the camera to see how it affects your image.
Step 2: Settings and Practice
To get the most out of your device, you need to control the following settings: Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO speed. Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter remains open. For fireworks photography, I have found that 7 to 10 seconds works very well. Aperture is the focal length of the lens. Basically, that means it is the size of the hole in the lens. A larger aperture number represents a smaller hole in the lens. When shooting fireworks, I will often shoot with an f/8 to f/12 aperture range.
The aperture can be adjusted to compensate for the amount of light entering the lens more easily than adjusting the ISO, which brings us to ISO. This is the speed at which the sensor captures light. In a nutshell, raising the ISO is like adjusting the gain of the image. The image will become brighter but at the expense of adding noise to the file. This is because the camera’s sensor has to “make up” the missing information to increase the image’s brightness. An ISO of 200 will be acceptable for your fireworks image. This will keep the blacks nice and dark during our long exposure time. Set the focus and then lock it by changing the autofocus to manual mode. If you’re not using a DSLR, you will need to have an object more than 100 feet away to focus on in the image at all times so the camera will not seek the focus with each image. Using focus lock will be helpful if your software allows that option.
Step 3: Take the Shot!
Now that you’ve made the proper preparations, you can take the shot! Shoot as many photos as possible during the show and adjust the settings as needed to provide the best mixture of dark blacks and crisp colors. Changing from 8 to 10 seconds and f/11 to f/9 or f/7 will make small but noticeable changes in the photo. I recommend shooting in full manual mode and making adjustments on the fly. Trying to use an Aperture or Shutter Priority mode will cause the camera to look for a properly exposed shot, and we don’t want that because the exposure takes place across a length of time, not a specific moment. Hence the long exposure we are taking. Once you have played around with the settings a little, you should learn how the small changes you make affect the final image.
If you enjoyed this article on how to photograph fireworks, you might enjoy this article on the science behind fireworks!