Jun 28, 2009

Fireworks Shooting Tips

OK, a quick google search will get you lots of tips for photographing fireworks.  Since you are already here, here is my $.02 worth of advice...

Location, Location, Location...
First, you have to pick your shooting location.  Many times the best place for photos is not the best place for just watching.  Look for places with other elements to give your shots a sense of place.  A city skyline, waning sunset, landmarks, and people can make your fireworks shots more visually appealing.

My fair city's display happens at a park with a nice pond.  The still water provides a nice reflection and makes for unique photos.
Seagoville Carnival-304

First and foremost, you have to keep the camera still.  A tripod is best, of course.  If you have no tripod, find something to rest your camera on and do your best.

This shot was taken holding a small point & shoot camera on the arm of a folding chair.
July 4 Temple, TX 

It is hard to know exactly where the fireworks will be exploding, so start with a fairly wide angle setting.  After the first few shots, you will be able to more accurately frame your shots to fill the frame.

Point and Shoot  notes...
Any camera will do.  Seriously, almost every point & shoot camera has a "fireworks" mode, and from my experience they work pretty well once you get the timing down.  If you can't find a specific fireworks mode, use one of the "nighttime portrait" modes. 

Turn off the flash.  The flash is only helpful if you want to light up something in the foreground to go with the fireworks.  The fireworks mode on most cameras has the flash disabled.

Timing.  On P&S Cameras, the fireworks mode is all about timing.  You get a 1-2 second shutter speed, so it will take some practice to release the shutter at the right moment to catch the bursting shells.

DSLR Notes...  
Manual Focus.  Your camera cannot focus on something that isn't there, so don't let it try.  You can generally set the focus to "infinity" and be safe.  If you are really close to the action, pick an object to focus on that is a similar distance to the fireworks and focus there.

ISO, Shutter and Aperture...
This can get complicated, but here is a good place to start..
ISO 200, aperture at f8, shutter 3 seconds.

Work the shutter speed up and down and see how things look.

If your camera has "Bulb" setting, this will allow you to control how long the shutter is open.  As long as you are holding the button, the shutter is open.  A remote shutter release really helps here, so that you don't accidentally move the camera while pushing the button.

Watch through the viewfinder...
When taking photos, you give up part of the enjoyment of watching the show so that you can capture images for later.  Watching through the viewfinder allows you to frame your shots well.

Check your LCD often...
Fireworks events last long enough that you can try lots of things.  Look out for over-exposure (if the fireworks just look white, reduce your iso or move to a higher aperture setting)

Longer Shutter speeds are fun to get more explosions into the shot.   Wind is not your friend here though... 

Here are some shots and notes from Saturday...  I will try to improve next weekend!

The Gear...  Canon 5D, 24-70mm zoom lens, tripod and remote release.
Seagoville Carnival-312

This is the scene at Seagoville Central Park... nice pond, a stage, and some unfortunate car and street lights.  I was tempted to move, but decided to stay in this general area because I was with my family...
Seagoville Carnival-300

A six-second shutter opening at ISO 400 left nice color in the sky, but the wind caused a lot of streaking.
Seagoville Carnival-301

I moved down closer to the water to capture reflections.  The first spot had a lot of moss by the shore.  This is a 5 second exposure, still a lot of wind motion there.
Seagoville Carnival-303

A move to the left got me away from the moss, and placed the fountain as a more central element in the shot.
Seagoville Carnival-306

I wanted to include the a sense of the whole event, so I moved back and shot really wide to get the carnival in the shot.  That did not really work as you can see... to much in the way and the street light is very distracting.
Seagoville Carnival-309

While photos of fireworks are fun to look at, they will all look the same, year after year, and get boring really fast.

to take your photos to another level, include something else into your photo that sets the scene into this event, this year, this experience that you are sharing.

I was happy to have my wife, one sister, two nieces and mom and dad with me.  This isn't technically a very good shot.  Lots of lens flare, not great composition, lots of distractions.  Still, it is one of my favorites because it puts the event into context and time.
Seagoville Carnival-310

OK, so go shoot some fireworks..  just remember to keep it steady, have fun, and try to work in some elements to put it all in context.

Happy Shooting

don j

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