Canada Day and Independence Day are fast approaching so I thought I would share some photo tips I have learned over the years from photographing fireworks. Some of what I have learned has been from trial and error because I have had times when they just don’t turn out the way I planned, but when I get all of the settings correct I am so thrilled with the result!
Location, Location, Location
Find a location where you don’t have any obstructions to block your view, reflection in the water is always nice to show off the colours, a landmark in your foreground can be a nice addition, be upwind from the display to avoid having too much smoke in your photos. Also, a dark area away from street lights is a good thing to remember so your photos won’t be overexposed.
I want to share an experience I had last summer with choosing a location. We arrived at the firework show early so I could get a good spot. We were on the boardwalk, at the waterfront and directly behind the ropes. I was so excited, I got my tripod set up (important tool to getting sharp firework photos) and I was talking about how this year I was going to get fantastic photos with no obstructions! Just before the fireworks were about to begin a couple arrived beside us, climbed the rope and sat on the rocks directly in front of my camera. Well I exchanged looks to my daughter who understood my disgust and went about moving my set up so I could be ready. I couldn’t move very much though because the boardwalk was crowded by this point. I was going to have to be creative with my composition. Check out a couple of my photos from that night.
In the end I really should have thanked those people for choosing to sit right in front of me! I think they add to the photo by showing people enjoying the display and it looks like I asked them to sit there! So if you have a couple of people with you, try getting behind them for a few of the photos and see what happens! ( I did have to brighten this corner of the photo in my editing program to see some of the details.)
Manual Camera Settings
Switching your camera to Manual settings is very important unless you have a “firework” mode on your camera. By having your camera in manual mode you are in control of your camera. You are also going to want to put your camera on manual focus as well which means taking it off the auto focus setting. Set to infinity so that everything in the sky will be in focus.
Next you are going to want a small aperture or f-stop to let less light in because you are going to have a slower shutter speed. So f8 – f16 would be an ideal range so that your depth of field can be increased. Play around with your settings before the show begins so you know you have it correct and get ready to start shooting!
Turn off your flash!!! Your flash only works for things that are close to your camera so it definitely won’t work for fireworks. Your ISO should be set to as low as you can put it – 50 or 100. Having a high ISO will give you grainy or noisy photos.
Your shutter speed should be set to a slow speed such as 1 second or you can even set it to bulb to control when your shutter opens and closes. This is what makes your fireworks look like there is movement but still sharp. I know that sounds like I am contradicting myself so here is what I mean.
In this photo the setting are correct for exposure and it shows movement on the fireworks but they are not sharp. Settings are: 100 ISO, 1.6 sec at f/7.1
This photo has the same settings. Shows movement in the fireworks, but sharper image so it gives you the feeling the fireworks are falling on you. When you have a shutter speed that is this slow you need your camera to be perfectly still. Your tripod will be your best friend.
Frame Your Shot
Have your tripod set and ready for the general area where the fireworks are being set off from. Have your lens on a wide angle so you can take in the entire area. This can be fine tuned once the first firework has been released.
This is my first photo from the display and I almost had it centered.
I shifted my camera bit to the right and I was ready for the rest of the show.
Flipping your camera to portrait style can also be a nice change.
Remember to turn your camera around or grab a shot before the show begins of who you are enjoying the fireworks display with.
Whether you are shooting fireworks at Disney or just in your backyard you can follow these guidelines and get the results you are looking for!
HAVE A BLAST!!!