How to photograph fireworks

Jan
27
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Fireworks are spectacular but usually don’t last too long (unless you are lucky enough to watch
one of the shows where they spend an absolute fortune to outdo some other city’s past show e.g.
Dubai’s largest fireworks display on 2014 new years eve).

In this article I would like to share the techniques I usually use and some hopefully useful tips
if you decide to head out next to take some awesome photos of a fireworks display.

Gear to use for fireworks photography

First of all you need at least a semi-decent DSLR camera that lets you dial in ISO level and
Aperture level manually. Preferrably it should have “bulb”mode (this basically lets you to
manually open the shutter for as long as you want to). You definitely need a reliable tripod as
you won’t be able to take good fireworks photos hand-held. I also recommend a cable release or
remote control so you wont even need to touch your camera while taking pictures. This will reduce
camera shake. The lens you use is depending on what you have and how far away you are going to
set up your post from the fireworks. I’ve used a Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 lens that worked quite
well.

How to take fireworks pictures and what settings to use

Set up your tripod and place the camera on it. It is handy to know beforehand where exactly the
fireworks are going to be launched and how far up in the sky they going to reach so you can frame
your photos accordingly. Once you framed the image go and set your focus to infinity or just a
bit below. You can even try to focus on a subject that is exactly the same distance as the
fireworks will explode then once done lock your focus. You can lock the focus on some lenses and
you can also switch auto focus to manual on your camera body. Set your camera to manual mode (on most cameras it is a matter of changing the dial to M. Now you need to dial in your aperture
(this is basically determines the size of the opening in your lens where light will come
through). It is measured in F stops and I recommend to set it between F8 to F16. Some people swear
F5.6 to F8 works best but I personally prefer F16 (sounds like a fighter jet). Next you need to
set your ISO. This determines the level of sensitivity to available light. I recommend to use ISO
100 or ISO 200 so your resulting images won’t have much image noise. Finally you need to set
your shutter speed to bulb mode. Some photographers also recommend using mirror up mode (MUP) to avoid camera shake. Rig up your cable release and take a few test shots to make sure everything works and wait for the show.

When using the above settings, all you have to do is when they launch the first firework press
your shutter button, keep it depressed while counting to 4 then release. On some cameras you
might have to wait until the camera processes the image before you can take the next shot. This
would typically happen if you have long exposure noise reduction turned on. Basically if you have
a 4 second exposure you would need to wait for another 4 seconds until you’d be able to take your
next shot, therefore missing a lot of action. The way to get around this (you guessed it) make
sure you turn off long exposure noise reduction. Keep the whole process repeating through the
entire fireworks display. You can play around changing the shutter speed. I recommend somewhere
between 2 and 6 seconds (at F16). After the first few shots you can review your shots and make
adjustments accordingly (e.g. re-frame and decide on shutter speed). Try to take as many shots as you can, especially at the beginning of the show before the whole sky gets filled with smoke.

If you don’t already shoot in raw format, please do yourself a favour and start doing it. You
will find that when you post processing your raw images of fireworks there is a lot more
additional detail you can bring out as if you were just shooting jpg’s.

Fireworks shots summary and check-list

  • use a tripod
  • set your focus to infinity or just before infinity and lock it
  • set your camera to full manual mode
  • set your aperture in between F8 to F16
  • set your ISO low (100 or 200)
  • set your shutter to bulb mode
  • turn long exposure noise reduction mode off
  • play around with shutter speeds of 2 to 6 seconds

 

Additional optional tips for fireworks photography

  • use a cable release or remote control
  • use mirror up (MUP) mode to minimise camera shake (blurred images)
  • shoot in raw format
  • pack a charged spare battery
  • avoid using live view (it uses up your buttery juice pretty fast)
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