Since the 4th of July—Independence Day—is today up in the U.S., it’s a good time to review the basics of photographing fireworks for the shows tonight. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to preserve memories of those wonderful displays.
Scout Your Location
This is one time that being close is not an advantage. Try to find an elevation some distance away that will give you a vantage point for something besides the sky bursts. Water is a great choice. You’ll get a secondary reflection off the surface that adds depth and echoes the colors in the sky. City lights would be another good choice.
Keep a watch out for distinctive foreground shapes that you might use the fireworks to silhouette or frame. If you have a fill flash along the effect can be quite dramatic.
Bring Your Tripod
Hand held is a no-go for fireworks photography. The exposure times are just too long to get a decent image hand held.
Try to show up at your location early so that you still have enough time to check your framing and level with the horizon. At times like these having a bubble level on your tripod really pays for itself.
Keep in mind that, unless you’ve been to that spot before and know the terrain, you might have to shift your frame depending on the altitude the display operators are using for the shells. I mark preset points with a grease pencil above and below and left and right of my preferred frame. That way I don’t have to guess in the dark, I can simply move to the next preset. If you can, set preset marks for both horizontal and vertical framing.
You’ll also want to use your remote release on the “B” or bulb setting. Trying to hold the release button will invite camera shake, even on a tripod.
A lot of people think you need a fast lens to photography fireworks but in my experience, an aperture of f/8 to f/16 usually works just fine as a starting point. Fireworks are particularly bright, so you don’t need a fast lens and lower f-stop to get the best results.
Start at f/8, and adjust if necessary.
Same story with the ISO. Using a higher ISO will just invite over-exposure of the shell bursts. Start at ISO 100 and adjust after the first couple if necessary.
Remember, you’re not striving for perfect exposure, you’re striving for the perfect fireworks shot. Sometimes those poorly exposed frames make the best shots.
Depending on how much ambient light is left in the night sky, usually you just open the shutter before the launch and close it after the burst trails off. This is where you can start having fun.
Don’t be afraid to vary the number of bursts in one shot from just one or two to leaving the shutter open for three or four. Sometimes you’ll over-expose one, no big deal. Adjust as necessary for the conditions.
Mainly just have fun. Photography can be stressful and this is one of those rare opportunities to just break all the rules while you enjoy the show.
About the Author:
Peter Timko writes for http://www.ProudPhotography.com, an online photography school offering a variety of courses.
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