The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.
If you've been to a big firework in the sky, I'm sure you've heard the "oohs" and "ahhs" of the crowd, fascinated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the holiday is on Independence Day when many of us try to venture our hand at fireworks photography. I am sure that if you live in other places in the world, you also have a holiday with fireworks. So how can you capture those moments in a photo and get the same "oohs" and "ahhs" out of your viewers and take better fireworks photos ' s?
Great fireworks are not difficult, but you don't get them in Auto mode. You need to think a bit about this and learn to take charge of your camera controls. Try these simple tips, though, and I bet you will come back with images that ' oohs & # 39 ;, ' ahhs & # 39 ;, some likes and maybe even ' wow ' of your viewers.
These are the things we will cover for better fireworks photos:
- Camera settings
- Shutter speed choices
- Use the Bulb mode
- Recording technology
- Boom Zoom Bloom FX
- The "Black Hat Trick"
After reading this article and taking your fireworks photos, you should read it Part two – Creative editing of your Fireworks photos ' s.
You can take good fireworks photos with only an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need a little more – an interesting setting or foreground.
Think of displays that you have seen during fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbor, the Chicago skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. What makes those shots over the top? A couple of things; iconic skylines and monuments in the city, and mostly water.
Not only are there interesting things in the battle besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there is the advantage of colorful reflections.
If you're lucky, the place where you want to photograph your fireworks also has interesting foreground elements and maybe some water. If this is the case, scout the area in advance so that you can find a location to best capture these things.
You can count on a crowd if you go to a fireworks show. Plan to get to your spot early so that you "can use your soccer field." Maybe put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show. If you don't have any other foreground elements, consider the possibility of placing the crowd in the foreground, their heads against the sky and fireworks.
Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not exactly where the fireworks are launched. Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree line, a high vantage point or another place that will create an interesting foreground that, while the fireworks are still there, will give context, location and "story" to your photos. Scouting long before the evening of the show is a good idea.
What do you need to take good fireworks photos? Let's break down the basic equipment needs:
You can take fireworks photos with a mobile camera if that's what you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results are probably not that impressive.
We will not discuss this here, so let's assume you have a better SLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual operation. Make sure you have a hefty memory card, as well as a spare battery or two, because you usually take a lot of photos during a fireworks show.
Fireworks photography requires a stable camera, because you photograph in low light and take longer pictures. Consider a tripod that is almost mandatory for this type of work. An L-shaped bracket on your camera or at least a tripod with which you can easily go from landscape to portrait mode is also a good thing. You will often shoot in both aspects.
The choice of lens largely depends on how close you are to the fireworks launch location. If you are really close, you may need a wide angle to hold the larger bursts in the frame. However, if you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the air bursts, a telephoto may be fine.
I usually use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105 mm f / 4L IS as it covers a good range. You do not need a particularly fast lens because you will be working with medium to small apertures and slower shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always good.
Cable release / external trigger
The technique for shooting fireworks is discussed in a minute, but trust that a way to activate your camera remotely will be a real help. One reason is that you are probably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show. If you keep your eye on the viewfinder all the time and your finger on the shutter release button, enjoying ' there are ' less. It will also introduce camera shake, something you don't want.
A very simple external release can be done for less than $ 10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.
3. Camera settings
If you've always worked in the program or in one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use the Aperture (Av / A) or Shutter (Tv / S) mode, this is the time to be brave and fully working Manual mode.
Here you can read how to set up your camera for fireworks photography:
Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you've never done this before, this is your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if you feel safer. However, I bet you will not use the JPG versions.
As described. Be brave. You can do this.
If you use the Raw mode (you are, yes?), The white balance can be adjusted later so that it does not matter much what you have set for shooting. I tend to always leave my white balance in Faithful mode.
Working in low light with a dark or black background and long exposure times tend to introduce noise into your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are clear, so higher ISO settings are not necessary. Use the minimum instead (ISO 100 on many cameras ' s) and it will be fine.
Noise reduction off
Many modern cameras have a noise reduction function, which creates a second "black frame" exposure after the first exposure, detecting the sound and then subtracting it from the first exposure. It can work well, but …
The second exposure lasts as long as the first and if you take more than a second of shots (for example, the 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds), then your camera is busy working and you miss subsequent fireworks.
Shut it down. You will use a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in taking more photos is not worth it.
There are two things to consider here:
- How much depth of field do you need?
- What is the "sweet spot" of your lens?
First, because the fireworks are at a great distance from your camera, you focus a little further away and you probably have a pretty good depth of field. Working with a wider focal length also helps. Plan to be at your location long before the show starts and have an idea what to focus on and how much depth of field you need.
Secondly, most lenses are sharpest between f / 8 and f / 16. Discover where your lens performs best, the so-called "sweet spot", and use that aperture if you can.
4. Making shutter speed choices
Your choice of shutter speed is important when taking good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the explosion of the fireworks fired from his mortar that it jumps into the air, explodes, and a beautiful rain of colorful sparks shines and seeps down.
Often several fireworks are launched close to each other, each doing the same. What you are looking for is to capture the entire event that can sometimes take a few seconds.
You could choose a fixed shutter speed of, for example, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? It of course depends on the individual firework duration or sequence that you want to record and which will vary during the show.
So how do you choose?
The answer is, you don't have to, because there is a better way.
5. Use the Bulb mode
If you've seen photos of early photographers with their viewing cameras, you may have noticed that they were holding a rubber "light bulb" that, when they pressed, blowed air through a rubber tube and made the shutter vibrate. As long as the photographer held the lamp, the shutter opened and ended when they released it.
These were the first shutter remote controls, and it was that rubber lamp that gave the mode its name.
Today we have wired and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same. If you put the camera in Bulb mode, you can set a variable shutter speed. As long as we keep the button pressed, the shutter stays open. Release it and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.
This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.
So let's look at our basic camera settings:
- Camera on tripod
- Raw Capture
- Manual mode
- Noise reduction off
- Auto focus off – Focus on the expected firework spot and lock the focus there
- Lens Vibration Reduction (VR / IS) Off
- ISO 100
- Approx. f / 8 – f / 16 (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if the images are too bright or dark).
- Bulb mode
- No flash – I forgot to mention this. Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), you will someday have to use flashlight when taking fireworks photos. Also consider whether others in the neighborhood are watching the show. The use of flash certainly makes you less popular with other fireworks enthusiasts. Unless you are alone and have good reason to use Flash (in that case I will assume you know what you are doing), do not use it.
Imagine this, you are ready to go. Remember that when the show starts, you are busy. If you are fooled with camera settings, you will miss shots. You will want to try a number of variations, but you do not want to struggle and miss the show.
Be prepared, think of it in advance and start clicking when the show starts.
6. Shooting technique
You have placed your camera on a tripod, figured out where to focus, pre-focus on a distant spot and lock the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.
If you leave the autofocus of your camera, you will almost certainly get images that are more a failure than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks, the focus will hunt, fail and … it will just be bad. Do not do it.
Often the best images can be made when the show starts, as later, the smoke from the previous fireworks gets thicker and the fireworks become darker. So, when you hear the thump of the first fireworks, hold down the button on the remote control. You are in bulb mode so keep it open while the fireworks go up, explode and shine out. Then release the trigger.
Check your photo now. Is it focused and well-framed? Is it displayed correctly? If it is too dark, raise the ISO with a click or open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.
Try not to spend too much time on this, because the show will of course continue without you.
If you are in base, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two irreparable mistakes you could make are to make things blurry or to burn out the highlights so that they cannot be found again. Editing won't save you if you do those things, so make sure the focus is right and if you're not sure about the exposure, slightly underexposed. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the final. Check your histogram as quickly as possible and make sure you have not trimmed the right side (markings).
Make any tweaks that you need and keep clicking. Vary the zoom lens if necessary, but if there is anything, frame a little ' loose & # 39 ;. You can always make it tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular outburst is so large that it gets out of sight, you've missed it. Try both portrait and landscape statues. You may try setting it again to get different things in the recording, especially if you include elements in the foreground.
If it goes well, it will be a fairly long show.
And if you feel your frisky, you may be ready for some more advanced techniques.
7. "Boom Zoom Bloom" FX
You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, thick, vague paths with sharp points. How did that happen?
Here is the technique, which you can vary for different results.
Know that this takes practice, and happiness plays a major role. So decide if you already have enough photos ' s before you try and if the show takes enough time to experiment.
If you are a game, do it as follows:
- You have your hands free for this and you want to look through the viewfinder or use Live View, so using the remote control probably won't work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds and leave all other camera settings where they were.
- Hold your hand on the focus ring and remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so that things are no longer sharp.
- Just as the fireworks explode, click on the shutter and gently turn the focus back to the focus point that you have remembered. You have the preset shutter time to achieve this. If you finish early, that's fine.
Now try different things with consecutive recordings. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during exposure, or remove the camera from the tripod and move it during exposure to create traces of light. Play and see what you like.
Keep in mind that the duration of the show is limited, so try a few experiments, but also make sure you have some decent ' keepers ' have.
8. The Black Hat Trick
I confess, I didn't try this personally, but the concept is good and can be fun. (I've always wanted to do a "hat trick")
Here's how it should work:
- Have a hat, a black or preferably something dark enough to be opaque. You will also have to work in an area that is quite dark.
- Place the hat on the front of the lens.
- Put the camera in Bulb mode and just before the fireworks start, click on the shutter that opens the release with the remote control.
- Quick but careful not to bump into the camera, remove the hat while the fireworks explode.
- Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, remove and replace the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need a smaller aperture or a lower ISO for this because you increase the brightness of the exposure with additional fireworks added).
- Once you've done everything you want, unlock the remote control and close the shutter.
What you are doing is creating a multiple exposure image in the camera. This should work. Of course there is also a way to do this in post-processing. For that, and some other tips on how you can best process your fireworks photo, you will come back for it Part two – Creative editing of your Fireworks photos ' s.
Light the wick
I hope you have decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it. It is another way to improve your camera skills and to make some exciting images.
If there is a problem, good sky fireworks shows are seasonal in most places, and if you really get the bug, you will find that there are not enough opportunities to practice.
So discover when and where the shows will be in your area, mark your agenda, go exploring for the best locations, "light the wick" and have fun!
Post your best photos & pictures as pictures in the comments – we would like to see them.
The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.