How to photograph Fireworks

Fireworks can be very difficult to shoot, particularly for amateur photographers who find it very frustrating when they get bad photographs after they “just point and press the shutter” at the fireworks display happening in the sky. But, with a little knowledge and some patience, you could take the photograph which will forever adorn your desktop.

Fireworks Photo

Look at the pictures above. What you see is what any average photographer would achieve. I too was taking lots of such pictures every year during the new year fireworks show, until i decided to learn about that art. By the way, the photos above are not mine. As a rule, i never share/display my bad photographs. This would ensure that your “photographer” rating always stays high irrespective of the number of photos you share.

All the pictures above were taken hand-held. That is why you see the streaks of light in all directions. A popular rule in photography is that you can hand-hold a camera only if the shutter speed is shorter than the inverse of the focal length used (t < 1/f). So, if you’d use a 70mm standard lens at 70mm to photograph a scene, you could handhold the camera when taking a picture if the shutter speed is about 1/70 second or shorter. If you use a longer exposure, you need a tripod. Of course,as always, rules are meant to be broken at some times. I have seen some wonderful shots of fireworks taken without a tripod, but for starters, i would strictly advise a tripod.

A burst of fireworks against an empty sky would look good, but that can flicked off any site on the internet or even generated by many fractal softwares. Always add a foreground element, i.e. shoot the fireworks against a landscape, usually a city-scape with buildings lit at night. This would give a good perspective to the fireworks as well as to your location.

Some thumb rules (irrespective of the type of camera you are using):

  • Don’t go directly underneath the location of the fireworks. They look more beautiful from far away and against a backdrop of the city or a monument, rather than just the sky. If you have a small hillock from where you can get a “higher” view of the entire show, nothing like it.
  • Plan in advance i.e. get to know exactly the time when the fireworks are about to begin. You just can’t take out your camera and shoot. You have to find a good location without people moving in front of the camera and where you can place your tripod without it being disturbed.
  • Try to use a digital camera. No, i am not against film, but it doesn’t feel good when you see the photographs after developing and find that none have come out ok. You probably have to wait another year for the show!
  • If you have a cable release or a remote for your camera, use it. Even i don’t. So, i use the self-timer option in my camera. Yes, you have to guess about the fireworks in this case, but that is better than the shake induced by the finger pressing the shutter. I use the timer at 2 seconds, so the guess is relatively less.
  • Decide on what kind of photograph you want. i.e whether you want individual bursts or a lot of them. This affects the shutter-speed you set or in cases you want a really long burst, you can use the “B” (Burst) mode. I personally prefer a shutter-speed of 4 to 10 secs.
  • The wind direction is important. Yeah, I am sounding like a pro, but sometimes such things help. Try to keep the wind at right angles to you so that the smoke from the fireworks is blown outside the frame rather than remain the frame and obscure the actual burst.

If you are using a non-SLR digital camera, switch to the “fireworks” mode in the “SCENE” modes. Even the basic 150 USD model seems to have one these days. This will handle all your worries. Just use this mode and shoot away. Don’t forget to use the self-timer to avoid shake of the camera.

If you are using a SLR digital camera

  • Switch to Shutter-priority mode (or B in manual mode). Watch the first burst and guess the time needed for a complete shot.
  • Use the self-timer option, if you don’t have a cable release or a remote.
  • Try to focus on the first burst and then change to manual focus, so that the focal length stays on. Otherwise, focus at a little less than infinity.
  • Keep as low an ISO as possible, for an over-exposed burst doesn’t look good.
  • If you are interested in just the burst, zoom into about 70 mm, but correspondingly reduce the shutter-time, as the core of the burst would get overexposed very soon. If you want a wider perspective ( i always prefer this), zoom out to the level such that you can bring in some foreground element.

Below are two of my best fireworks photographs. The one on the left was taken with an exposure time of 4 seconds and the one on the right for 10 seconds. I hope that this small article would be helpful in making you a better photographer.

One comment on “Fireworks
  1. darren says:

    thanks very helpful about two weeks to go.

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