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How to Photograph Fireworks

KEY POINTS
1.Tripod
Long exposures mean that a tripod is essential.
2.Focus
Manual, usually infinity 8.
3.ISO speed
Slow speed - try iso100
4.Aperture / shutter speed
At ISO 100 choose f8 - f16
5.Exposure
Down to experience and judgement. May be 4s for a busy sky, but 10s+ in slower sequences.
Digital
Photography
 Firework Photographs

Exciting firework photographs with your digital camera

Camera

1. Point and Shoot.
Today's cameras with IS (image stabilisation) and program modes pre-set for different circumstances, will take excellent fireworks photographs.

compact camera Use the Fireworks pre-set
Brace the camera to keep it as steady as possible
Big vollies of shellbursts will give the best results

B-setting2. Compact, Bridge & DSLR

To take your photography up a notch, use a camera with complete manual control:

The important setting is the one which gives you complete control of the length of exposure: the B setting. The shutter stays open as long as you hold down the button.

tripodTripod

Exposures will be several seconds so a tripod is essential. It is always recommended that a remote shutter-release is used with a tripod and most systems will also suggest you turn off Image Stabilising.

Plan Ahead

Now you have the kit assembled, it's time to think about the actual phography. It is useful to find out as much as you can in the daylight. If you can, visit the display site and view the layout. Find a position away from the crowd, and observe the wind speed and direction with the smoke in mind.

Exposure & Settings

Focus: Manual. Set the focus in daylight and don't move it. In most circumstances, infinity ( ) is OK.
White Balance: auto (AWB). Auto White Balance is fine.
Image Stabilisation: off
ISO: 100 Low speeds are best.
f stop: ISO 100 . . . . . f/8 or f/11
ISO 64 . . . . . . f/5.6 or f/8
ISO 50 . . . . . . f/5.6 or f/8

Composition & Technique

Many of today's firework show designers like to use plenty of width as well as height. Landscape format works best for these and it is best to keep the camera in this plane.
The best exposure is achieved by experience and judgement. If you can imagine a single shell-burst, it will take several seconds to burst and fade fully and this is a good guide for exposure time.

Helpful Hints

Try to have something in the shot to establish a sense of scale e.g trees but especially people, to create a sense of occasion.
take a folding chair in case of a long wait till darknessWatch out for lights in the scene - e.g. street lights, even the moon. Because your exposure will be a long one, these can spoil the end result.
Frame and focus in the daylight, then try and avoid moving the camera. It will be difficult to level it again in the dark.
Fireworks produce smoke whcich can hang around. Your first shots can be the clearest so be ready from the start.
A firework display can often be photographed just as effectively from behind. Of course, this is where the fall-out zone is so you will need to be much further away and to compensate with a longer lens.
Don't forget a folding chair (and maybe a flask and a sandwich). If you've set-up in daylight there may be a long wait till dusk.

Footnote

Although you will be concentrating on the fireworks, look around for other subjects. If have a second camera use it hand held for candid and quick opportunities. A child's face, for instance, thrilled by the action and illuminated by a spectacular shellburst can make a wonderful photograph..

Links: More fireworks photography can be found at:
Firework photographs Some of my own photos from various displays and trade nights around the UK.
Firework Photographs Earlier photos on a separate website.
Skydreamz Chris Thompsons collection of photographs. Some classics such as Edinburgh here. Well worth a look at.
www.pyro-pictures.com. Amongst many other nice shots are some of Plymouth 2002 when good photographic results were very difficult due to still air causing smoke to linger, and to very low cloud.
Fireworks Museum. More photographs of fireworks but this time before they were lit! Plus many more photographs and videos of the Plymouth competitions, and much more.


Jubilee Fireworks ‘Lake of Dreams’ display, Southport 2007 More photographs »

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