Fireworks have been used for centuries to mark special occasions and festivities such as Canada Day, Fourth of July, Olympic ceremonies and to welcome in the New Year. Take the guesswork out of photographing fireworks – follow these simple pointers for how to photograph fireworks.
When light becomes the subject, consider going fully manual. For best results, you will need to consider the fundamentals of photography – aperture, shutter speed and ISO, coupled with compositional elements of creating that perfect shot to capture an evening of pyrotechnic excitement. Focus should also be turned to manual – most cameras will have a difficult time on autofocus in the dark, especially when the shot starts just before the subject explodes on the scene.
Aperture - the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken. While counter-intuitive in photography, the smaller the aperture, the larger the opening that allows the light to hit the camera’s sensor. This is measured in f-stops. While a smaller aperture makes for a fabulous depth of field tool, for photographing fireworks, aim for somewhere in the range of f5.6 – f16. You do not need a large opening or fast lens as the explosive nature of fireworks will provide more than enough light to capture the effect.
Shutter Speed – the amount of time the shutter remains open, allowing the light to hit the camera’s sensor. While generally measured in fractions of a second for daytime photography, a few seconds is best to capture the magic of the fireworks. Be careful not to leave the shutter open too long and over expose the shot. Take a few practice shots to find the right balance between shutter speed and aperture.
ISO – a measure of sensitivity to light or the sensitivity of the sensor. Use a low ISO when shooting fireworks for better photography clarity.
Bulb – for maximum control on how long the shutter will remain open, bulb mode is a useful tool for photographing fireworks. I have yet to use this method, however Jim Harmer at Improve Photography sheds some light on use of bulb mode.
Before the show
What do you want to achieve? Are you looking to capture a landmark with the fireworks exploding overhead? Perhaps you are capturing the cityscape in the background. Know where you are going to shoot from. Get there early to scope out your shot. You will want to be far enough away to capture the full view, but be certain that nothing will be obstructing your view. My first attempt at photographing fireworks was New Years in Prague. We went out in the afternoon to check out where the media were setting up – they had a space barricaded off which represented the perfect vantage point for fireworks over the Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the distance. (Photo credit: http://www.www.today-malaysia.com/new-years-eve-celebrations-around-the-world-photos/385 - Fyle/Fotolia)
Tripods are an invaluable tool in photography, and really are a must for long exposure times. To avoid user induced camera shake, a remote shutter release is also beneficial. I have not yet made the move to a remote release setup, however I have lost a few photos to shake as I take the photo. (This is the next piece of equipment on my camera wish list!)
The beauty of digital photography – take a number of practice shots to make sure you are getting your desired effect. You can easily check your photo and make the desired changes. Over exposed – adjust your shutter speed accordingly. Want to include more of the city scape – zoom out to include surrounding viewpoints.
I have learned so much about photographic techniques through DPS – Digital Photography School. Well worth it to spend some time here for techniques and tips that extend beyond the How to Photography Fireworks Displays page.
For tips on layering, check out Geoff Lawrence’s post on Photographing Fireworks – a technique I have yet to try, but the outcomes are beautiful.
Travel photography at night is a great way to showcase amazing architecture and capture a different look of the places you are visiting. Be sure to get out and practice before you go – you can learn a lot just by getting out there and working with your camera.