Fireworks Photos - Not Really That Tuff
Originally posted July 02, 2013
Interested in trying some fireworks photography this 4th of July? Do it. It’s really not that difficult, and you might surprise yourself with the results.
The above photo is a good example of this simplicity. Last September, we were walking to our car after U.C.L.A. had kind of cruelly used Nebraska, when we heard fireworks. I had my compact Nikon 1V1 in my hands, set on full automatic, and turned around and “snapped” this picture. It’s a grab shot, and I’d be the first to stipulate that it’s nothing special, but at the same time, it’s a good depiction of a not-so-memorable evening. With just a bit of additional time, preparation, and equipment, it could have been quite striking.
Probably the first rule of fireworks photography is use a tripod. Whether you have an adjustable camera or just a point-and-shoot compact, they all have a threaded receptacle in the bottom plate where you can attach the camera to a tripod. A tripod used for a compact camera doesn’t need to be expensive, and simply having a steady rest from which to take shots will do more for the result than anything else. Without a tripod, the dramatic streaks of light left in the sky by exploding fireworks will look wiggly, not straight and sharp as you should want them to be.
Along with putting your camera on a tripod, setting it to manual focus, if you can do so, is probably the next best move you can make. You want the focus set to infinity…or as distant as possible. The two ways to get this setting are – with the camera’s focus on automatic – press the shutter button half-way while framing the most distant obstacle possible, and then turning the focus to manual so you’ll hold onto that setting. Or in a DSLR camera, just turn the lens focusing ring to the symbol for infinity “∞”.
If your camera only shoots on automatic, all that’s left for you to do is set the ASA number to 200, and you’re good to go have fun.
If you have a more sophisticated camera, you should still set the ASA to 200, but there are several other settings you’ll want to take advantage of, which will greatly improve your results. “Experts” vary on these numbers, but the consensus of opinion is that you should set an f-stop of f-11 or f-16. Shutter speed should be anything from a half-second to using the camera’s “bulb” setting and holding the shutter open for 2 to 3 seconds. The longer exposure time will be useful to capture all the drama of the finale, when they fill the sky with successive multi-colored explosions. A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the longer the exposure time, the longer will be the streaks of fire left in the sky and captured in your camera.
One neat thing about digital photography that we just couldn’t do in the days of film, is to periodically check the monitor on the back of the camera, to see what results you are getting. If it seems as though the shots are too light with too much clutter in addition to the fireworks, turn the ASA down to 100. And if you feel your shots are too dark, turn the ASA up a notch or two, say to 400.
That’s probably the neatest thing about fireworks photography: no matter how hard you try, you really can’t screw it up. Whatever setup you finally choose, or is available to you on your particular camera, you are bound to get some pleasing shots. And with this experience, think how much better your fireworks photography will look next year.
Have a great 4th of July everyone, and Happy Birthday U.S.A.!
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