How to Shoot Fireworks
Photographing fireworks can be a challenge. It’s often frustrating to witness a spectacular display, take pictures, and come home to be disappointed with the results. A few people have recently asked me how to capture fireworks due to the upcoming U.S. Independence Day. Last year I briefly wrote about capturing them, but I thought I’d go into more detail this year. There is a way to capture these awesome bursts of color to look like how you remembered them live. My method requires two things that I will share.
First, there’s a “formula” I use, and have never deviated from. I use a DSLR, but you can use a compact camera if you have manual settings. I always bring a tripod and a cable or wireless remote (you can carefully press the shutter button, preferably with mirror lock if you don’t have a remote). I set my camera to manual focus at infinity ∞. If you have a focus ring, this is easy. Just dial it to the line, not symbol for infinity ∞. Also, I use manual exposure at f/8 and bulb, or if you have a bulb setting you just have to adjust your aperture. You can use aperture settings from f/8 – f/16. Bulb is crucial to get good firework photos by slowly capturing the intense colors. For those unfamiliar with “bulb”, it allows you to hold the shutter open for as long as you’d like. The longer the shutter is open, the more light from the image is obtained onto your camera’s sensor or film. I use a wide angle lens at 17 mm, which can always be cropped, and camera settings are at auto WB, ISO 100, and no flash is used. I use an APS-C camera, and might even consider using my 11-16 MM lens next time. One thing to consider if you have a camera with more than 8 MP, you might want to consider shooting in JPEG only and/or reducing your image quality to M to reduce the file size. Since this is a long exposure, it’ll take more time to process larger files onto your sensor if your using a digital camera; therefore, you get fewer opportunities to shoot, and will miss some fireworks.
Second, you need to develop a feel for where to shoot and for how long to expose the burst. To find a good location, simply mount your camera to a tripod allowing it to pan, and while holding it, wait for the first firing. Track it with your camera and once it “explodes”, make sure you have it centered with plenty of empty space around the fireworks, since each firing while be in a slightly different location. Now tighten your tripod in place. From this point on, you should be able to use the remote to shoot the fireworks without looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD display. You may have to occasionally adjust your camera to capture a burst. When you take the shot, continue holding the shutter button or remote until the trails (lines of light) come to an end, and then release.
Here’s where you can become creative. You can capture multiple bursts on one photo (a multiple exposure). This technique requires a black card/sheet of paper large enough to cover the entire front of the lens, good timing and some practice. After you’ve captured the first burst, quickly cover the lens with the black card while still holding the shutter open. When the next burst begins, remove the black card, and once the trails end, release the shutter/remote to complete the shot. If you’re adventurous, you can repeat the procedure and go for a third or fourth exposure.
This year I’m considering going to a location across from NYC to get fireworks over the skyline instead of individual shots. This will be MY challenge this year, and if all goes well, I’ll have a link to the photos to share and/or a post about it. If you’re near a city (large or small), consider doing the same.
Good luck with your challenge. After you’ve capture your fireworks, please share your link here. Post it even if you weren’t successful and I will give you tips on how to improve your skills, so you’ll be ready the next time!