Want a free year on Tuts+ (worth $180)? Start an InMotion Hosting plan for $3.49/mo.
If there's a grand occasion coming up, you can almost guarantee that it'll be marked by fireworks. With Guy Fawkes Night almost upon us, it seemed like a good time of year to explore this topic! We can't help but marvel at the colours and light appearing before us in the sky. Many try and fail to photograph the beauty of fireworks, but hopefully this 10 step guide will help you to capture some of those breathtaking bursts!
Step 1. Equipment
The most useful piece of equipment to take when photographing fireworks is a tripod. Without a tripod, it will be extremely difficult to take sharp shots as the length of shutter speeds needed would require a very steady hand. If possible, use a cable release to avoid any vibration and pressure on the camera. Something else that you might find useful is a torch or flashlight, otherwise you'll end up fumbling around in the dark trying to change the settings on your camera!
Step 2. Getting a Good View
One of the key things to consider is your viewpoint. A clear unobstructed view may well make the difference between a generic firework shot and capturing something dramatic and exciting. Look for high vantage points, being on top of a roof or hill will give you a clearer view. If possible, have a look around the site at daytime and work out where might be best to stand and ensure that there aren't any trees, buildings or cables in shot.
Alternatively, you can look to include certain features - are there are particular landmarks such as famous buildings or structures that would help in framing or enhancing your shot? Remember though that it is likely that any features in your shot will be silhouetted, and detail will not be visible.
Be sure to take into account any water mass which will reflect the activity in the sky which can produce beautiful dramatic results. Make sure there's plenty of water between you and the launch point and that you can fit in both the water and the sky!
Step 3. Smokin'
There is one primary aspect of fireworks that will really hinder your chances of getting a good shot - the smoke. All fireworks produce smoke, and depending on the weather conditions, there may be huge plumes of thick fog-like smoke wafting around. Do your best to make sure you stand up-wind from the launch point, meaning that any smoke produced will not be between you and the firework bursts!
Step 4. Get Set
Settings for firework shots needn't be complicated, there are just a few basic things to know to get the best out of the camera. Firstly, you won't need to use a flash, it would merely highlight anything in the foreground of you scene and will reduce the focus on the burst.
Although you are shooting in the dark, keep the ISO low, this will keep the image sharp. Because you are shooting at bursts of light, you don't need the light sensitivity too high. Set the aperture to around f/8 to f/16, if you're camera doesn't allow that, try selecting the fireworks preset on your camera.
Step 5. Shutter Speeds
The key to successful firework photography is getting the shutter speed right. You need to capture the light, the trails and the burst, and although your eyes will see that all happen very quickly, most cameras will struggle to take it all in amongst the darkness if the shutter speed is less than a second. So you'll need to set the shutter speed at between 1 and 15 seconds - it's a case of experimenting and is dependant upon the brightness of each burst.
The best option however is (if you have it) to use the bulb (B) setting on your camera, with which you can hold open the shutter for as long as you need, down when the firework bursts and then off when it starts to fade.
Step 6. Composition
Composition is all-important when shooting fireworks. I mentioned earlier the option of including landmarks, but to start with, it's best to ensure you've got the firework bursts in shot, using a fairly wide angled lens (20-28mm) would be best.
Look at where the launch point is, and consider where they are likely to be in the sky, the heights of bursts will vary, but you don't want to get caught out having to jump around the sky trying to predict where they're going to burst.
Step 7. Focus
It is difficult to give an over-arching rule on focus when shooting fireworks. Some people suggest using infinity focus, whereas others recommend manual (which I would suggest is the better option). If you don't have a manual setting, then a landscape setting is your best bet. Use the first burst to focus the lens and then adjust accordingly.
Step 8. Single or Multiple Bursts?
You also have the option of taking single bursts or multiple firework bursts within a single frame. A single frame requires you to open the shutter for the duration of that one burst. A multiple burst shot requires you to have the shutter open for the duration of many bursts, which is much easier with bulb mode (if you have that on your camera).
A trick that many photographers use when shooting multiple bursts is to use a piece of thick black card to cover the lens between bursts so as to reduce unwanted light entering the lens to produce a better exposed shot.
Step 9. Save the Best Until Last
It is vital to remember that the best fireworks always come at the end of the display, so it is important that you have enough memory with you to last through the whole display. It can be difficult to judge when the end of the display is, so keep on shooting. You can always throw away dud shots and you'll be very annoyed if you miss the finale!
Step 10. Get Creative!
Firework photography isn't the simplest of tasks, but can be extremely rewarding when done well. The old adage "practice makes perfect" is definitely true here - the more you do it, the more you'll understand the settings required and how to take dramatic shots. Once you've mastered the basics, you can think about experimenting with longer exposures and including structures, people, reflections and landscapes to create some stunning firework shots of your own.