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Photographing Fireworks

July 2, 2015 5:21 pm

The 4th of July is famous for amazing celebratory firework shows across the country and while you stand “ooing” and “ahhing”, you can also hone some your photography skills with some tips from National Geographic. Photographing fireworks presents various challenges due to the time of day and the bright bursts of colors, but with some practice, you can immortalize the stunning moments of your Independence Day celebrations.

No flash and manual mode

To capture great fireworks shots, turn your flash off and place the camera in manual mode so you have control of the exposure and aperture. National Geographic suggests an ISO 100, f/11/ at ½ second for your initial settings. If your shots aren’t bright enough, “vary the shutter speed while keeping the aperture the same.”

Use a tripod

Photographing fireworks requires a long exposure, which means slow shutter speeds and it’s vital that you keep your camera motionless by using a tripod. If you’re shooting at a location that includes both sky and background elements like a cityscape, “keeping the horizon line straight is particularly important” so ensure that your camera is level on your tripod.

Bulb mode

To capture the action at the peak of a firework burst, use bulb mode for your photographs. Bulb mode enables you to take a picture for as long as you’re pressing the shutter and it’s ideal for long exposures at night. When you use bulb mode, you can “create timed exposures based on changing conditions.” To avoid wobble and blur in your images, use a remote shutter when shooting in bulb mode so you don’t have to touch the camera. Press the shutter remove when the firework launches and keep it pressed until the burst fades.

Shoot upwind

Fireworks put off a lot of smoke in a short period of time so for your comfort and better shots, choose a spot upwind for taking photographs. If you have a certain vantage point, “the reflective quality of the smoke can add an element of interest to the shot.”

Scout your location

Whether you’re attending public fireworks or a display in your back yard, scout your location during the day to find a good vantage point and set up your tripod if possible. Although it will be dark when the fireworks go off, it’s important to notice the foreground and background elements, as they’ll be illuminated by the colorful flashes and visible in your shots. Before full dark settles, manually adjust the focus of the scene by zoning in “on an area of sky where the fireworks will be, or on an object the same distance away.” With these preparation steps done, you can then enjoy your celebrations knowing your camera is ready to go when the fireworks start.

Vary your shots

Vary your shots during the fireworks display to keep it interesting. According to National Geographic, “The focal length you need depends on your distance from the burst and what you’re trying to capture. If you want a tight shot that shows detail, you will want to use a zoom lens that goes to at least 200mm.” Changing your focal length usually means refocusing the zoom lens so investigate this element in the daylight before the fireworks start.

Bring your fireworks image to Baboo Digital for quality digital development and ask about one of our unique framing techniques such as a custom lightbox to transform your still image of a fireworks show into a bright, luminous display.

Featured image by Pete Ryan, National Geographic