From: Murr Rhame
Date: Sat, 24 Aug 2002 23:55:32 -0400 (EDT)
A couple of months ago, I bought a nice digital camera, a Minolta Dimage 7i. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to take photos at several fireworks events, the largest of these being the PGI convention in Fargo. I’m writing this to share some of the techniques I’ve found that work well or work badly. Hopefully other PML subscribers will add their ideas on this topic. Although I was using a digital camera, most of this info should apply to conventional cameras also.
BASIC SETTINGS I’ve seen a couple of web pages that suggested setting the F-Stop to the square root of the film speed. My camera is limited to a minimum ISO of 100 and a minimum lens opening of F-8. I shot some fireworks ISO-100, F-8 using a standard UV-Haze filter for lens protection. The colors were a bit washed out and over exposed. Since that first outing, I’ve been using a Circular Polarizer filter which cuts the exposure by an additional 2 F-Stops. Long exposures with this setup (effectively ISO-100, F16) works well for color stars and other bright effects.
If I were using a 35mm camera, I’d probably choose Kodachrome 25 film and set the aperture to F-5.6 or F-8. Most fireworks are plenty bright. For artistic shots, high speed film offers no particular advantage. All focuses are at infinity. Shutter speeds will be about the same regardless of the film speed. Unless you have some unusual requirements, I would suggest using the lowest speed film or film setting that’s available. As a general rule, lower speed film (or digicam equivalents) will produce the best colors and details.
My digital camera also has a color saturation compensation setting. I’ve only used this feature a few times. Setting color saturation to maximum does seem to help. I used the default color balance setting, presumably daylight.
SETUP LOCATION AND LENS LENGTH The minimum focal length on my camera is 28mm (35mm format equivalent). When photographing large shows from near NFPA minimum distances, I found that most of my shot were taken at or near 28mm focal length. If you don’t know what the NFPA minimum distances are, don’t worry about it. If you’re on the “front row” at a large display (in the US or Canada), you’ll probably be at or near NFPA minimum distance.
If you don’t have a lens as wide as 28mm, I would suggest setting up at a proportionately longer distance from the fireworks to take in the larger effects. If at all possible, set up in an location which is upwind of the fireworks. If the wind is blowing side to side, move to the upwind side of the field. I would not recommend setting up in a grandstand unless those stands are remarkably solid. You should place your tripod on solid ground to take long exposures.
EXPOSURE TIMING Fast exposures of typical fireworks can make boring photographs. With typical color shells, all you would get is a pattern of small colored dots. Most shells burn about two or three seconds from first light to darkness. I take all of my exposures manually. The camera is mounted on a sturdy tripod. The shutter is opened by a wired remote button. Focus is at infinity. Aperture setting at described above. For typical shots, I open the shutter from two to ten seconds, depending on the current action. If the sky is busy, lean towards a two second or so exposure. If the sky is relatively dark, hold the shutter opened and hope that something interesting comes along. I found myself spending most of my time watching the sky directly, rather than looking through the view finder. At times, you may be able to anticipate a flight of shells by listening to the lift charges and watching the time fuzes.
I’ve found the square root aperture and two to ten second rule of thumb works well for most bright fireworks. For lance work, waterfalls, wheels and similar effects, you need much shorter exposures. I was able to capture a few set pieces and wheels by simply bumping the shutter release as quickly I could manually… This was hit or miss. I’d guess an exposure of about 1/4 second would be about right with at aperture set as described. None of the shots I took of the waterfall during the MPAG show were particularly good. I got some fair shots of the big wheels using this “bump” exposure method. Zooming in on lancework and getting a shot or two was tricky and rushed.
Relatively dim fireworks did not photograph well using the methods I’ve described here. I got some good shots of charcoal crossetts. These crossetts were relatively dense. Bushy charcoal comets turned out fine. Fill-the-sky kamuros did not photograph well. They are too dim for this exposure method and I suspect there’s too much tiny detail to capture well on film.
I hope this information is useful. I’d love to hear suggestions from others. I’m still new to fireworks photography myself.
From: “David Mason”
Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2002 08:11:26 -0400e
The technique I now use with my Olympus c-2100uz is a lot less scientific, but still yields some very good results. I switch the camera to fully manual mode (manual aperture, shutter & focus.) & change the ‘drive’ to sports (rapid repeat shots) as this mode briefly flashes up the last picture taken each time. The ISO is left at 100 & white balance is on auto (seems to default to daylight).
With the camera set up on the tripod I use the view screen on the back – so I can watch the show as well as the camera, set the aperture to 5.0 & shutter to 2 seconds. Make sure that the focus is on manual & set to infinity. With the Olympus the manual focus goes from 4″ to infinity in a set number of steps (128 I think) However just setting it to infinity NEVER works. After quite some time playing with the focus settings I have found that infinity minus 3 steps is about as good as it is going to get, without spending £2000 – £3000 on a pro camera that is!
Once the show gets going it’s a case of ‘fastest fingers’ to adjust the shutter & aperture settings to suit based on the last picture taken. As it flashes up on the view screen you can tell if it is under or over exposed, or if you want a longer or shorter exposure to get the effect you are looking for – set pieces tend to look better with a shorter exposure & aerial bits need longer. For a typical 10-15 minute display I will take between 70 & 250 photos and may end up changing the settings between 50 & 150 times.
I also tried using a skylight filter as it’s cheaper to replace than the lens if the worst happens, but I found that on bright images it caused a halo effect where the light was reflected between the lens & the back of the filter. One drawback with the c-2100 is the long lens. It has a 10x optical zoom which means that for general photography it is ideal – you can always frame your photo’s exactly how you want them. But for fireworks it is a real pain as the minimum focal length is equivalent to a 38mm lens. Which means that I have to be a long way back to fit in anything, & a VERY long way back to fit in anything BIG.
I have also noticed that in firework photo’s taken with Olympus digital cameras the red tends to saturate & bleed over which can make some pictures look a bit fuzzy.
Hope this helps.As always…….. If you have any firework pictures you want the world to see, then use the links on the website & I’ll add them to the site.
From: Tom Calderwood
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 23:20:36 -0700
I have a DiMAGE 7 camera, but usually am too busy doing a show to take pictures of the fireworks. (Hmmm. I’m too busy shooting fireworks to shoot fireworks???) While this camera takes wonderful pictures, please keep in mind that the most important part of the camera is the person behind the camera. Go to www.dpreview.com, do a search on ‘fireworks’, and see how every else has screwed up and how they fixed the problems. Some of the things you’ll find:
– Stars are brightly lit objects. Adjust your aperture accordingly. If necessary, you may need to include a neutral density filter (a grey filter designed to reduce f-stops without affecting color). You will see them as ND6 (neutral density – 6 f-stops), or some variant. For firework shows, it would not be out of the ordinary to put your f-stop setting at maximum then add an ND8. (Your comment about the f-stop being the square of the ISO setting is pretty close. An ND filter would help.)
– Vary your settings. Heck – it’s digital, right? How much ‘film’ can you waste? Experiment, then hone in on what looks good to you. (This will also mean going to more than one show for ‘experiments’, if you get my drift.) On the DiMAGE 7 (and 5, and 7i) you can see what the shutter/iso/f-stop settings are while you are viewing the pictures. If you use the DiMAGE Viewer Utility you can document the settings. (Warning – don’t adjust the pictures in Photoshop and save them back. It will overwrite this information! I mean, you do keep your originals, right? You don’t doctored images then save them back, you rename them, right?)
– Use a GOOD tripod and a remote shutter release mechanism. I sometimes see images where the person reports a color is bloomed, but at the same time stationary objects in the fore/background are blurry. How do you expect to get a good, crisp shot of a star if the camera isn’t steady? (Blooming can also an indication of over-exposure.)
Digital cameras are really coming along. A camera from 2 or 3 years ago would have fetched some shots that would make a good thumbnail and not much else. The better cameras coming out today are *almost* there. Which means – if you really want some dynamite shots, you shouldn’t’uv sold that SLR at the last garage sale.