There’s nothing like a loud bang and a brilliant flash of light to make an occasion feel truly special. New Year’s Eve, Halloween and of course the 4th of July are celebrated with fireworks. However, they are quite a tricky subject to photograph, so let’s discuss what you need to know.
What makes a good fireworks photo?
For all the flash and bang in real life, fireworks themselves are a pretty boring subject of photography. Totally isolated, they look like something computer generated. Instead, the best fireworks photos have something else going on in the image. It can be people in the foreground or just fireworks exploding over a city, but there is something else at play.
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When pyrotechnicians launch fireworks, they do so to bring out the best show. This means that the fireworks are launched individually or in small bursts, one after the other. It is rare that the whole sky is filled at once. This looks great in real life, but in a photo, a single firework looks anticlimactic. Most fireworks photos are actually long exposure images that capture all of the fireworks that went off over a period of 10 seconds, 20 seconds, or even longer.
To capture a photo of fireworks, you have two options: the first (and bad one) is to hand-hold the camera and try to time a photo to capture the fireworks as they go off. The second (and good solution) is to mount your camera on a tripod and use a long exposure time so that the fireworks will go off at some point in it. This is the method I will talk about.
For the best photos, arrive at the fireworks display location early, before the sun has fully set. Set up your tripod and frame the shot where you think the fireworks are going to be. You may need to adjust things later, but arriving early will allow you to get the best position and angle.
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The lens you use depends on how far away you are from the screen. A zoom lens will give you a lot more flexibility to adapt to what’s going on. In general, it won’t be so far away that you need a really long telephoto lens. Something with a focal length between 18mm and 70mm will work for most situations. Just make sure you use manual focus.
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Aperture is less important than shutter speed for fireworks photos. You have to stand too far from the screen for depth of field to matter. Set your aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/16, depending on the ambient light. If the fireworks are being launched over a city, f/16 will work best. If they are in the woods, lean towards f/8.
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Fireworks shine brightly, and since you’re using a tripod, ISO isn’t much of a concern. Set it to 100 and leave it there. We will be adjusting the exposure using the shutter speed.
There is no shutter speed that captures the fireworks. Whether you have the shutter open for 10 seconds or 30 seconds, it’s the half second during which the fireworks really shine that matters. The difference is that with the shutter open for 30 seconds, you’ll capture five or six bursts of fireworks instead of just one or two; it will also give the background more time to expose.
Start with a shutter speed of around 10 seconds and take a few test shots. If the photos are overexposed, adjust the aperture or reduce the exposure time to five seconds. If they are underexposed, you can open the aperture a bit or go for 20 second exposures. The only way to find out what will work is through trial and error.
Other tips and tricks
Be prepared to adjust shutter speed and aperture on the fly. As the fireworks display progresses, there will be larger explosions and quieter periods. The shutter speed that provided a large exposure at the beginning could overexpose the crescendo.
Pay attention to the other elements in your image. A strong foreground or a nice background will take a good fireworks photo and make it look great.
If you have a cable release or remote release, you can put your camera in Bulb mode. As long as you hold down the shutter button, your camera’s shutter will remain open. This gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of the duration of your presentations.
It is really difficult to capture fireworks displays using your phone. The best thing to do is record a video instead of a photo, or use an app like Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone or a long exposure camera app on Android (Samsung phones have this built in), as well as a phone tripod. intelligent.
Enjoy the display. Don’t get so caught up in taking photos that you miss out on the fun of hearing things go off and smelling the gunpowder.
Fireworks photos are a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you have your camera on a tripod and use a long exposure time, it’s hard to go wrong.
Image credits: Alejandro Scaff, Vernon Raineil Cenzon, Alexandre Chambon, Mike Enerio, Matt Popovich.