Photographing fireworks is not difficult, but also not easy, because fireworks don’t happen too often so you can’t practice your skills when you want to. So if you haven’t photographed fireworks before you should try to minimize the possibilities for error. Here is a short list of things to think about with a short explanation.
1. The camera
Camera with manual settings, but also predefined firework setting will do.
When I’m taking a series of photos, I like that they all look similar in exposure and white balance. In automatic or semi automatic setting this will jump around a bit for each photo.
You could use a big stone or the roof of your car, but the point is that the shutter speed will be way too long to be handhold even with the best image stabilization, so you need a sturdy way to place your camera.
3. Low ISO
Parts of the photo will be dark or even complete black and in those areas it will be easy to see image noise, so you should use the lowest ISO your camera has, or at least as low as it doesn’t have noise in dark parts of the photo.
4. Turn off the flash
Should be obvious, but all of the time we see people using flash in any conditions.
5. Turn off long exposure noise reduction
This feature does a great job of removing noise, but with low ISO it’s not necessary and also it takes the same time as your shutter speed to perform the noise reduction, not something you like to wait for while photographing fireworks.
The hole in your lens that determines the depth of field should be small so you have mostly everything from just in front of the camera to infinity in focus, like f/9 or f/11 on DSLR (using even smaller aperture will cause diffraction and make you photos blurry).
7. Shutter speed
Adjust your shutter speed so that the background has the brightness you would like. The fireworks are bright so don’t worry too much about that, although you shouldn’t over expose the fireworks too much so you’ll lose the colors in the light. Play with aperture, ISO and shutter speed to get what you want. Intense fireworks need less shutter speed like just a few seconds, while less intense firework could be 15-20 seconds or more (remember to adjust aperture and/or ISO accordingly so your background stays more or less the same).
8. Choose your vantage point
Scout the area before hand so you know where to go and set up your gear early so you are prepared when the action starts. Be aware of the wind if any, and choose a place upwind so you won’t have all the smoke drifting towards you.
9. Choose you focal length
Aim your camera in the direction you will take the photo and adjust the zoom until you get the framing you want. Don’t frame too tight to be able to catch the bursts, it’s better to crop later than miss the action outside the frame.
10. Manual focus
If the camera doesn’t have anything to focus at, the focus will hunt back and forth to try to find focus and you might miss your shot, or the camera takes the photo anyway and it’s all out of focus (may depend on your camera setting). Aim your camera at something bright some distance away and focus, if the camera are not able to lock focus, try to adjust focus manually and then turn off the autofocus and preferably put a tape over the focus ring so it won’t move unintentionally. NB if you need to reframe by adjusting the zoom, you need to refocus again too (in most cases)
11. Remote or delayed release
I see many recommend a remote, but two second delay/self timer do the trick too. The thing is that you shouldn’t touch the camera to avoid camera shake.
If you are photographing fireworks for the first time, try to keep it safe and get as many shots as you can in good exposure and focus. While being more experienced you could experiment with other focal lengths and vantage points to get more spectacular photos. Personally, I use two cameras on tripods pointing in different directions and walk between for each shot using self timer. After some time I point the camera in different direction and/or adjust the focal length to get different photos. Just remember to refocus if you’ve adjusted the zoom!
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