While this is too late for any 4th of July fireworks shooting, the summer usually brings many opportunities for watching fireworks. I wanted to take a moment to explain my technique for capturing fireworks.
- Find a place with a clear view, but also try and include a strong foreground element that will not block the view. If you are in an area of great interest, try and include something in the frame that represents the area (i.e., in Washington D.C. get some landmark).
- TRIPOD, TRIPOD, TRIPOD. You must shoot fireworks on a tripod because you will be shooting with long exposures and if you're not on a tripod, the photo will be very blurry.
- Have a dark hat available (More on that later).
- Cable release
- You will want to use the manual settings on your camera. This may require you to do some experimenting to find the right aperture and ISO combination. I will get into shutter speed later because this is the key setting for getting the right look. This is where the black hat comes in again.
- So we have the camera on a tripod, cable release attached (this is optional, especially with the technique I will be explaining in a moment), it's set on Manual and you want to focus on infinity. It's time to get some test shots right before the fireworks start. I usually put the aperture somewhere in the mid-range, 8 - 11, but this means you need to set the ISO in the 640-800 area. You can get away with a larger aperture if you want, just play with different settings. Here's the key factor... set the shutter speed to 4 seconds to start, put the hat over the lens, release the shutter, after about 2 seconds move the hat from the lens (this is approximately the time it takes from the time a firework is shot from the ground to just before it explodes in the air), let the exposure finish. Now it's up to you to decide what you want the ambient light to look like. If it's too dark, then open up the aperture to 5.6 or lower and/or increase your ISO. Keep doing this until you have it where you want it. On a quick note, I mentioned the cable release is optional earlier because with this technique when you manually push the shutter button the small movement caused by this is masked by the hat covering the lens; the exposure doesn't start until the hat is removed and the small movement is already gone.
TIME TO MAKE THE SHOT
- A couple factors to consider: it's important to get the tempo of the show to get your timing down on shutter speed and when to remove the hat. That's why longer shows will help with the success of the shoot. 5 minute shows are very difficult to get right because just as your getting the timing down, they are into the finale, which will throw all your settings off. It may be advantageous to shoot in Jpeg if it takes a long time to write long exposure photos to your card. Distance from the show will determine if you need to make adjustments when more than one set fireworks are set off. If two bursts go off at the same time, then it shouldn't affect the exposure unless you're very close, but finales throw everything off unless you are very far.
- Lets Shoot! So we're ready to go, with shutter speed still a bit of a mystery depending on the show's tempo. Once the show starts, put the hat over the lens, press the shutter once you hear the firework launched, hold until shortly before it explodes in the air (this goes back to getting a feel for the tempo of the show). I usually try and keep the lens open during the explosion for 1-2 seconds only, so yo may have to put the hat back over the lens before the shutter finishes depending on how long you set it for. If things are moving fast then you may want to move the shutter speed to less than 4 seconds and vice versa if it goes slow. Take A LOT OF SHOTS, most fireworks shows aren't just one at a time, they like to mix it up with different variations. Shoot a lot and keep an eye on your settings and adjust when necessary.
WHY THE HAT?
- When I shoot fireworks I don't like to get the light trail from the ground to the air as the firework explodes (at least not all the time). With the hat over the lens, the camera won't see it. If you do want the light trail, then remove the hat earlier. Just remember you may need to make some adjustments to your settings since the lens will be open to the sky longer. Now you don't have to use a hat, it can be something else to block the lens, but make sure it is something dark. If it's a light color, the camera may pickup some of the inside of your hat while it covers the lens.