It’s time to get ready for Fourth of July celebrations and the amazing fireworks show that accompany the barbeques and other events. Want to get some amazing images? You can capture some spectacular scenes if you take a few tips with you before you begin shooting. Taking photos of fireworks is not very difficult, and you don’t need the nicest gear to create great photos. Really all you need to take photos of fireworks is a camera and a tripod. (Or anything else that is stable to set the camera on) you will want to take long exposures where there is no hope of handholding and getting clear images.
Scout Your Spot: If at all possible, get the event early and take a look around. See if you can get an unobstructed view or if you can position yourself where other onlookers’ heads won’t be in the way. You should also be deciding on whether your photos are going to have just the fireworks bursts in them, or if you are going to include a foreground or background. Sometimes adding the extra dimension of having the ground, water, trees or buildings can really make your photos spectacular. This is where it’s great to have a zoom lens so you can change your field of view easier. Plan your composition, but be prepared: once the fireworks begin, often times they are higher or larger than you expect and you will need to adjust to accommodate it. I have a pick-up truck and set up my camera/tripod and a folding chair in the back. This way, even if people are standing all around me (which they usually are) I am shooting above their heads!
Exposure:In Manual Mode, Set your camera to f8, and a 5 second shutter speed. Start at ISO 200 and see if the fireworks are exposing correctly. If you need to go brighter or darker, adjust your ISO accordingly. If you expose too bright, the colors of the fireworks will start clipping. You can use your camera’s histogram to make sure the data is not hitting the right side of the graph. Most of the images you see on this post were taken between F/8 and F/16 with a shutter speed of 1 to 2 seconds.
Since Fireworks are a fast light source that is moving, it’s similar to a flash where changing the shutter speed doesn’t change the brightness of the bursts. So here’s where your personal preference comes in a lot- Adjust the shutter speed to match how many bursts you want in the photo. A longer speed, like 10 seconds, will have lots of fireworks, where a shorter speed, like 2-5 seconds will have less. Be careful not to have too many, as they can overlap and be too bright for the sensor to capture causing the colors will blow out. You can also do even shorter speeds for a different look. Shooting under a second will capture less of the bursts, and the fireworks will not trace the same patterns across the photo. Have fun with it and experiment to see what you like!
Forget the Flash: Your flash can be more of a hindrance in this case because it may signal to your camera that you need a shorter exposure time. The flash only helps when your object is a few feet away, so in this case, even though it’s dark, keep the flash turned off.