How do we learn how to take photos of fireworks that are sharp, vibrant and beautiful? For a start, understand that fireworks are short lived, explosions of colour which have an intensity lasting for just a few seconds. Taking pictures of fireworks involves a little bit of planning, not just point and shoot and hope for the best. Getting good digital shots of fireworks is about using your settings properly to expose the picture without getting too much noise in the picture.
Select your shooting location. Fireworks look fabulous if you fill the frame but try not to cut off their edges. They need the depth in a shot, so make sure the composition is in keeping the appearance of being ‘big.’ After all, you want to convey their majesty and power in the photo. But be careful- with camera shake, fireworks look like wriggling electric snakes instead!
Charging the camera
Being outdoors and taking lots of photos with exposures to suit eats up a lot of power in your charge. So make sure the camera is fully charged before even venturing outside. There is nothing worse than the camera running out of power at the crucial moment or the thing blinking at you, saying you have one shot left and you haven’t finished!
Take the biggest size capacity memory card or memory stick (if it’s a Sony) because believe me, you’ll need it. Once captivated and determined to get a really good picture, you’ll be there for as long as it takes snapping away and will most likely loose track of time. (If you’re anything like me, people will expect you to have a camera.)
On the camera you will be able to set it at the highest resolution image. The picture will be compressed when you get it onto the computer and email it anyway, so chose the highest resolution so the image does not loose clarity and so that even some of the noise from the night sky will be compressed.
Where to focus
It’s hard to know what to focus on with fireworks. It’s not until they are in the sky that you can really tell where to focus, what to focus on, how to set the camera, and you can’t do all that in a few seconds. But what you can do is focus on the maximum range of focal distance. Perhaps even pick something in the distance that you think might be the same distance away as the fireworks would be, and set the camera to that. If you choose auto focus you’ll find your shot will be gone as the fireworks evaporate into the blackness of the night sky.
When taking pictures of fireworks with your tripod, one trick to use is to keep the shutter button down for the entire time the fireworks have exploded in their array of colour. The moment they show signs of fading, release your finger and let the camera close the shutter. What you are doing here is keeping the ‘eye’ of the camera open long enough for the light and colour to get into the lens, senor and create a grand image for you.
The right exposure time for fireworks
The best time is a long time! But not too long: I recommend holding the shutter button down, or release the cable after about one and a half seconds up to five seconds. The longer that this happens, the longer the burst you will have on your sensor. Longer exposure times do indeed compensate for the lack of light, but the only draw back with digital is that the longer the aperture stays open, the more noise creeps into the photo.
If your camera is an SLR or has some good manual controls then you can choose how you want the fireworks to come out. A smaller aperture (f.5.6, f.8) creates thin streaky lines and a wider aperture creates chunky lines. Whatever effect you want, make sure you have control over the exposure, not the other way around. Make sure which ever way you go, (thin streaky=smaller aperture; wide, chunky= larger aperture) experiment and have fun and you’ll get to know which fireworks you like. If you’re not sure, try both types of exposure and a something in between and see what you like best.
Want your fireworks pictures to be really good? Now that I’ve given you something to think about with your exposure why not try altering your angle? Remember how I spoke about composition? Well night time is the right time too!
Select your location. Make sure it’s a good clear shot without street lights getting into the camera to detract from the beautiful images on your photo, or passing cars that may potentially create light streaks in your picture. Also choose a spot where people won’t constantly walk in front of the camera, stare at it and wave whilst you are trying to take the picture (pet hate). Minimize any risks to yourself or anybody else.
Trails beautiful trails…..
So how do we capture those gorgeous trails left by a fireworks explosion? Try moving your camera at a different angle, like tilting it. This can enhance the creativity of your angle and shots by simply using a different movement on your camera. If you are using a tripod then make sure it angles with you. You shouldn’t have to take the camera off the tripod to get lots of good shots. Angle it so that the shot is 90 degrees vertical, and even whereby the bottom of the picture is at an angle.
Double exposure and layering
Double exposure is a pretty neat trick. Sometimes professional photographers use this. It’s cheating a little, but it does create some amazing photos.
Take two pictures in the same location of the fireworks exploding. Then in PhotoShop layer one on top of the other. The result looks pretty amazing. It looks as if two lots of fireworks are merging together in the sky. Open both pictures in PhotoShop; select a rectangle or freeform part on the sky of the second photo, copy that as a layer on top of the first photo, then merge the results. This is layering.
Once you feel confident to start learning how to take photos of fireworks, try an event and good luck!