Firework photography may sound like a challenging task, but with a little preparation and the right tools your local firework display can be a very easy and enjoyable shoot.
Essentially, firework photography is both night and low-light photography. With this in mind, it’s important to know the basics to these types of shooting methods before getting started.
First of all, it’s best to stick your camera in manual mode when shooting fireworks. If you haven’t had much experience of playing with your camera in manual, don’t worry as it’s easy enough to learn.
Secondly, this type of photography is best suited for an SLR, DSLR or mirrorless camera. However, some point-and-shoot cameras do come with their own fireworks mode that works very well!
Firework photography preparation
As you may only get a short time to shoot your firework display, it is well worth scouting the location and framing your shot ahead of time. Here’s a few tips why:
- Location. Location. Location. To get a great scene, you will need to set up your camera in the best location possible. So find out where the display will be taking place and the placement of the crowd. This is also vital for framing your shot prior to the display.
- Check the weather. Be suitably prepared for a cold or wet evening.
- Find the high ground. If a big crowd is expected for the display, try to spot some high ground to set up your camera. You wouldn’t want any unexpected crowd disturbance in your scene!
- Take some steps/a box. Crowded and no high ground? Set your tripod high and take a pair of step ladders or a box to stand on.
The equipment you’ll need
- Tripod. As you’ll be working in a dark scene, you’ll be using an exposure of at least 10 seconds. This means, to avoid camera shake, a tripod will be essential for a steady shot. Even the tiniest amount of camera movement when using a long exposure can ruin a shot.
- Remote/bluetooth shutter release. Instead of having to press down on your camera’s shutter by hand and risk moving the camera, a remote shutter release or a Bluetooth enabled app will help. Many modern cameras support Bluetooth and have a downloadable application for your phone, meaning you can control the shutter hands-free. You can also use your camera’s self-timer option, but be sure to set the delay to it’s minimum possible time so you don’t miss the shot!
- A torch. It’s going to be dark, so a torch will be handy to illuminate the camera dials between shots. The torch on a standard mobile phone should give off enough illumination.
Setting up your camera
- Focusing. Although your auto focus system will focus on the display, the hunting may take too long. The best option would be to switch to manual focusing.
Normal focusing methods may be hampered due to the dark surroundings, in this case you should set the focus of your camera lens to infinity (the ∞ symbol). You should be far enough from the display that infinity can be left on for the entire shoot.
- Focal Length. Using a wider focal length means having a better chance of the fireworks being in shot. Once you have it at how you like it, then you can start to play around with different focal lengths and produce some effective shots.
- Aperture. The aperture setting will depend on your shutter speed setting. Due to the brightness of a firework burst, a recommended starting point for an aperture setting would be f/8. If you’re not happy with the settings, play around with both the aperture and shutter speed until you’re satisfied with your results.
- Shutter speed. It can be an easy mistake to either underexpose or overexposure a firework shot. This can be avoided by having your camera set to manual exposure or the ‘bulb’ mode (if your camera has it). ‘Bulb’ mode will leave the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter release (preferably using a remote shutter).
- ISO. Make sure you have a low ISO to achieve the cleanest shots and avoid noise. Preferably no higher than ISO 100.
- Flash. Make sure your flash is off. It won’t be needed and may end up illuminating a foreground object that could ruin the shot.
Some final tips…
- Shoot early. Make sure you capture most of your shots at the beginning of the display to avoid a huge amount of smoke coverage ruining any later shots.
- Keep shooting. Take shots throughout the whole evening and before the firework display starts to check your results and find the best set up for your scene.
- Use a filter. If the display is not as dark as you anticipated, use an ND filter to achieve a longer exposure.
- Watch the space. Make sure to leave enough room in your frame to anticipate the height of width of the fireworks
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