Despite what most photographers believe, photographing fireworks doesn’t have to be any more complex than other types of photography and nor is it as easy as ‘point-and-shoot’ photography.
To put things into perspective, it’s more of a science than an art. In other words, it calls for calculated planning followed by equally precise shooting. And here is a quick primer on that.
1. Planning your fireworks shots
You already know that meticulous planning is the backbone of any form of photography – not just fireworks filming or shooting. But since most fireworks displays go hand in hand with a celebratory occasion, most often than not photographers either forget or ignore this.
- Arrive early enough: If the venue is going to be a popular party or carnival, then it is very likely that hundreds or thousands of people will throng the venue in a bid to lay their eyes and lenses on the spectacular display of elegance. So, it pays to arrive early enough before the crowd and select a vantage position.
- Ask the organisers where and when the fireworks will light up: Again, knowing the exact part of the sky where the fireworks will light up in advance can help you prep up the right lenses and focal lengths for the job.
- For the best shots, position yourself a reasonable distance away from the action: If there is a time when being up close is not a clear advantage, then it’s during fireworks photography. So, find a good, clear vantage point (preferably elevated) where you can catch each and every burst of the fireworks.
- Water is an advantage: A nearby pool, lake or even a swamp in the scene can act as an excellent backdrop to the starry burst of fireworks, giving the photo depth and a resounding echo mirroring.
- If the venue doesn’t have large water body, then the city lights or a distinctive skyline can also be a good choice. And even then, look for well-defined foreground shapes that may use the burst of fireworks as a silhouette.
After all is said and done, you may have a ton of expensive gear, but without the right level of preparation or anticipation, you’re likely to end up with poor and substandard shots.
2. Focusing and Framing
Framing is by far the hardest part of photographing fireworks. And it is not just a question of knowing where to aim the camera, it’s more of ‘when’ to aim. Anticipation is key here. That’s why you need the following valuable pointers.
Use a tripod.
As long as you’re after quality photos, a hand-held camera is not an option in this niche. And mostly this is because the exposure times are sometimes too long to get anything close to a decent image when using a handheld camera. Sure, it may work if the photos are just for social media or to tinker with in your free time, but if you’re looking to gain an audience in professional stock photography, then you may want to bring a tripod along.
Use manual focus.
Unless you have been to the venue before, and you know the exact frame to use, be prepared to adjust the frame according to the altitude the shells are to go off. But even then, you’re better off using manual focus and setting it to infinity denoted by a tilted figure 8. Autofocus will only distort your images as it configures to block the excessive light from the fireworks.
Vertical or horizontal?
You may not realise this, but how you position your camera when taking the shots determines significantly how the photos turn out. Fireworks are generally shot upwards, so if you need to capture each burst separately, then a verticle orientation would serve you better. Similarly, a horizontal orientation means more room to capture the entire scene.
As far as fireworks photography goes, always have it at the back of your mind that timing is everything. So don’t wait until you see flashes in the sky before taking the shot. Listen in for subtle thump-like sound or whistling that typically indicate that the shells are about to explode then pre-focus the camera towards that direction.
3. The desirable shutter speed
While it’s not fundamentally necessary to set the camera’s shutter speed to an extremely low setting, there is still need to ensure that the shots are exposed enough to guarantee a clean, clear photo. Which, of course, means that you have to strike a balance between the two, preferably two to eight seconds long. Any longer than that will overexpose your photos and introduce digital noise to it.
Other than that, you can experiment beforehand with various shutter speed lengths to get the ideal one that you can work with. Which brings us to the next topic.
4. The Exposure
If have a compact digital camera and you can’t change the exposure settings manual, try making use if the fireworks mode on the camera. This way, your camera will automatically select a slow shutter speed suited for photographing fireworks.
On the other hand, if you are using a Digital SLR, use the bulb B shutter setting that allows manual tweaking of the shutter settings. This way, you can open and close the shutter just before and after the burst of fireworks, without touching the camera, thanks to the remote release button.
If you don’t fancy the B-settings, then anything between 2 to 5 seconds should be more than enough.
5. The Aperture during Fireworks Shots
In photographing fireworks, the smaller the aperture and the faster the lens, the better the resulting image. Which translates to either an f8 or an f16 lens. So, it’s advisable to start at a lower f-stop (f8) and then progress gradually to higher ones in case you’re not satisfied with the quality.
6. The ISO
The same applies to the ISO, where a very high ISO only invites over-exposure of the fireworks. So, it’s advisable to start at ISO 100 and keep adjusting if need be.
As long as you want your photography to stand out (regardless of the niche) then be prepared to do more than just the bare minimum. In fact, it takes several months or years behinds the lens before mastering the art of glamorous fireworks photography.