How to Photograph Fireworks

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Here is a short blog on capturing fireworks. Our friend, Anna, asked me and Mary about this and we thought it would be a good topic for the week.  Many of us will be out and about this week making photos and trying to get some of these elusive shots.  Here is how:

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There are several different problems we are trying to solve when trying to get fireworks photos.  First is exposure.  Our cameras will have problems trying to figure out the right exposure because of the wide range of light from the fireworks to the dark sky.  Second, and related, is focus and sharpness.  Focus could be a problem for a couple of reasons.  First, auto-focus may have a hard time tracking the fireworks.  Second, if you are hand-holding, your camera may have a longer exposure, thereby introducing some camera shake and blurred images.

Here are my suggestions:

If you have a point and shoot, see if you have a “fireworks” setting.  If so, use it.  If not, try  your “sports” setting which will increase ISO and put you in burst mode.  If you have a “night” setting, try that one too.  With better point and shoots (like a Canon S110 or G15) that have standard controls, set your camera’s AV at is widest aperture (f/2.8 or larger), highest ISO, and burst mode, and see what kind of shutter speed you can get.  This is probably the best you can do without a tripod.

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If you have a DLSR and a tripod, use Manual mode.  Set the aperture to the widest you can, f/2.8 – f/4.0 or larger.  Turn off auto-focus and/or set the focus to “infinity” on your lens focusing ring.  Finally, set exposure times from 1-3 seconds and see what happens.

Lastly, if you also have a tripod and a cable release, use the “blub” setting on your camera.  This enables you to control your shutter speed manually with the cable release.  Set up again with the auto-focus off and set to infinity.  Now you can time the fire works with your cable release.  Again, experiment with longer and shorter exposures.  I still fine 1-3 seconds ideal.

I can’t believe I am going to say this, but this is one of those situations that you should “spray and pray.”  Take as many images as you can and find the best ones later.  Timing fireworks is hard, so just keep shooting.  One final warning on exposure.  Do not keep the shutter open too long.  I have found some of my photos with “too many” fireworks in them and they are just a mess.


A final note on composition

In three of the photos above, we were able to get a nice reflection in a river and in a bay.  If you can be near water, this makes for a really nice image.  If you are not near water, try to find some  kind of foreground silhouette to add interest (even if it is your child’s head).  If you can’t do either, make sure to get the fireworks within the frame and not have a lot of leakage out of the frame.

Oh, and remember to have fun.  Happy July 4th everyone.

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