Fireworks can look fantastic in photos. Find the right location and execute the shot well and you’ll be sure to end up with a stunning image. But capturing good photos of fireworks is not easy. There is low light to deal with as well as lots of people who might make moving around difficult. On top of these challenges, you also have limited time as fireworks often only last 10-15 mins. You may have to accept that it will take a few tries before you can master this genre of photography. To help you, here are some tips on how to photograph fireworks.
Find a good location
Even though fireworks will usually be in open spaces where you have a clear view, it still doesn’t mean it is the best spot. Often the usual viewing areas will be packed full of people which not only makes it difficult to set up a tripod but also means your view might be blocked. So try and scout out the area beforehand and find somewhere elevated if possible. This will ensure that your view will not be blocked off and also might mean you have a bit more room to manoeuvre.
Use a tripod and frame your shot
If you want to capture the best possible fireworks photos, that you can, then a tripod is essential. Besides the fact that you can lower your ISO and have a much longer exposure, it also allows you to carefully frame your shot before the event starts and just click away to take photos. But even if you are not allowed to use a tripod, you can still take photos of fireworks handheld. Bump up your ISO and use a wide aperture to try and have a shutter speed that you can handhold at. If there is anything you can lean on or against that will also help stabilise you when shooting handheld.
Don’t look through the viewfinder
Whilst it might seem odd, it will actually be much easier to see the fireworks and photograph them looking with the naked eye. Looking through the viewfinder will not only limit your field of vision but also mean you may not be able to anticipate when the fireworks will actually explode. Connect a remote shutter release and anticipate when the explosion will happen and press to take a photo as the rocket is making it’s way up. Don’t wait for the explosion to happen before you take a photo as you will miss it.
A remote shutter is really useful when photographing fireworks as you don’t have to set your camera on a 2-second timer. A timer will make it more difficult to judge when to take the photo as you have to add 2 seconds on. A remote also allows you to shoot without having to touch the camera. Thus reducing the chance of camera shake.
Long exposure is needed
The best way to capture fireworks is by using a long exposure. Not only will this give light trails which look great, but it makes taking the photo easier. Trying to time the exact moment of the explosion on a fast shutter speed will be difficult. But also you may not even see much. The magic of fireworks is in the way that colours erupt. Long shutter speeds will allow you to show that. Set your shutter speed to bulb mode (this way you can control exactly when you want the aperture opened and closed). You can then experiment with different exposure times to see the results.
Use manual focus
Make sure you turn off your autofocus. It will be too dark and your camera will forever try to focus on something meaning that you will often miss the action. Instead set your camera to manual and focus on infinity. With a long depth of field, it should ensure that everything in your image (other than movement will be sharp).
A couple of things to be aware of
With any long exposure photography, you should always make sure that you lock up your mirror. If you are unsure how to do this refer to your camera’s instruction manual. This is important because every time that you take a photo the mirror that sits at the back of the camera flips over to allow light to hit the sensor. This movement of the mirror flipping causes a small amount of vibration which can mean your photos will not be sharp. Locking up your mirror will resolve this issue. The other alternative is to use the live view mode on your camera which has the same effect.
The other function that you should turn off on your camera is the long exposure noise reduction. Whilst this does reduce the amount of noise, it will also mean that your camera will take longer to process each photo. So the waiting time before being able to take the next shot will be longer. When photographing fireworks that happen so quickly, it can mean that you miss several shots.
Crop in post-production
If you do want to have closeups of the fireworks where they fill the entire frame, you will find it easier to do so by cropping in post-production rather than zooming in when taking the photo. So if you are using a wide-angle lens, zoom in a little bit so that you are removing some of the unwanted spaces around the edges of the photos. But do the main cropping in post-production.
Photos of fireworks will look great if done well. But it will take a few goes before you end up with something that you are happy with. The most important things when photographing fireworks is to be ready and just keep shooting. Check the results later and most importantly try to understand where you went wrong and how you can avoid it happening again. Don’t worry, with a little practice, you too will be able to take stunning fireworks photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.