How to Photograph Fireworks
Fireworks photography can be challenging, often the photographs don’t do justice to the real thing and come out dark, grainy and blurred. Well no more! With this guide, we can help you to produce clear, crisp photos to be proud of.
Top tip from our resident Titanium Fireworks photographer:
Using the widest angle, foreground or framing features where possible, exposure 4secs, aperture f 20.It is best to shoot RAW files, but the largest possible JPEGs are usually of a high enough quality. RAW filles offer more possibilities of improving the areas of overexposure and underexposure, that are inevitable with bright white flashes and more subtle colours against a black background.
Photographing fireworks requires long exposure times, so a tripod is your most important ally. No matter how steady your hand is, it’s not steady enough as you’ll be using longer shutter speeds which will not only capture the movement of the fireworks but any movement of the camera itself. When using the tripod, don’t extend the legs or centre column. Keep everything close to the ground so the camera remains as steady as possible.
Another piece of kit that would be very useful is a remote shutter release so you don’t have to touch the camera at all. 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 it’s very, very hit and miss.
Try to determine approximately where the fireworks will be bursting and get a spot with an unobstructed view of that area. Try to find landmarks or other interesting things you can use to make your compositions more interesting. Figure out the wind direction and get upwind of the fireworks so that your shots aren’t obscured by smoke blowing toward you. Ensure that wherever the tripod is set up is safely out of the way of other people tripping over it. If you’re in a crowd, ask a friend to act as a shield to ensure other people don’t walk into your camera shooting while you’re looking upward.
Framing your shot
Framing a picture you can’t yet see is always going to be a challenge. What are you going to aim for? 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. Look through the viewfinder during the first few bursts and figure out where the action is. Point your camera at that spot and leave it there. You don’t want to be looking through the viewfinder while you’re trying to shoot, because you’ll likely shake the camera or your timing will be off. 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 be shooting with a wide focal length and will get other background elements in your shots.
To give your camera a chance to record those streaks and patterns, you need to make sure your shutter is open long enough to get them in. An effective method of photographing fireworks can be to set the shutter speed to b or bulb. At this setting there is no set time for the exposure, when you press the button the shutter opens and when you release it the shutter closes. Using this technique you hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding. 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, 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.
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. The aperture you set depends on the ISO rating set on your digital camera. At ISO 100 you will need to set the aperture to between f8 and f16. A good start would be f11 at 100 ISO but be prepared to vary this a little for very bright fireworks.
I’m afraid all the modes and settings that you paid all that money for are all useless when photographing fireworks and auto focus is one of them. You will get the best results when shooting in manual focus. Auto focusing in low light can be very difficult for many cameras and you’ll end up missing a lot of shots. Set the focus to infinity. You’re generally far enough away from fireworks that you can adjust the lens focus to infinity and leave it there. you’ll find you don’t really need to change it during the fireworks display unless you want to get a closeup of a small part of the burst when you may need to adjust the focus as you zoom in
Turn off the 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. The fireworks are bright enough, and your flash isn’t powerful enough to reach them anyway; however, it will dull the atmosphere of the shot, thereby lessening its impact.
You’ll likely be taking lots of pictures as you experiment and you don’t want to discover half way through the show that you’ve run out of space on your memory card so pack extra empty ones. You’re going to need to change your camera settings while you’re out there and it’s gonna be dark so a small flashlight will be essential. Crucially, make sure you battery is fully charged and bring a spare if you have one.
Practise, Practise, Practise
You can only read so many guides to photography, the best pictures will be taken through practise. Analyse the photos you take, figure out how you can improve them; whether it’s adjusting the settings or changing location. Experiment with different angles and shutter speeds to create a different impact and you could include a wider perspective, silhouettes or the people around you watching the display.