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How-to's

How to photograph fireworks

Lyle Stavast (newlyle) on March 29, 2011


Keywords: weddings, social, events, photography, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips, tricks

When the summer sets in, the heat wave usually comes accompanied by joyous celebrations all around the world, many enhanced by fireworks displays. Below, how I photograph them.

 

Click for enlargement
On a 4th of July. f/8, 5 seconds on ISO 100 color negative film

 

SETTING UP

This is just the recipe I use, and I seem to get nice enough results. It is this easy, and don't make it any harder, dang it!

If your are still usin film, get 3 rolls of 100 ISO color negative film or just set your DSLR at ISO 100. Exactly 3 are required, or one good sized CF card, unless you're in Idaho Falls, ID for the 4th of July or in Mexico City for the 15th of September; then take 5 rolls or three CF good sized cards.

Set the camera on a sturdy tripod and lock up the legs really good.


APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, FRAMING AND FOCUS

Set the f/stop between f/8-f/11. Remember, you are recording burning chemicals and they're very bright. Forget that the sky is black, f/8-f/11 will leave it that way.

Set the hyperfocal distance for f/5.6, almost always better than to focus at infinity. DON'T TOUCH THE FOCUS AGAIN all night, for the fireworks session.

Load 1st roll, or CF card and set the shutter on B (bulb). Use your viewfinder to compose on the first few bursts - frame to cover about 50% more than the first few bursts cover. DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES YET !!!

 

 

Now, look up at the sky and listen very carefully to the shells igniting on the ground... don't look through your camera again.

Open the shutter when you see some rockets starting to go up. Watch, and release the shutter after a FEW trails happen, but for no more than 3 seconds. Count to yourself. I call this "exposure al dente".

Check the framing occasionally to make sure you aren't missing the fireworks. Repeat until all film is gone. Oh, no magic camera required, it works like a hose.

Most people OVEREXPOSE (i.e. too long shutter speed, or too open f/stop) thinking it's dark and they need lots of light on the film. Don't! Again, you are taking pictures of burning chemicals which are very bright.

As far as getting foreground objects, buildings or city lights, the answer is easy: figure out the right exposure for the foreground and shoot them all for that amount of time. You will need to shoot more of course to capture nice screamers.
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Click for enlargement Click for enlargement Click for enlargement Cl;ick for enlargement Click for enlargement

 

We North Americans like to have fireworks every 4th of July, or any night at Disney World. We know for a fact that Mexicans do have them at least after all major soccer game finals and nation-wide on the 5th of May, 15th of September and 20th of November. All 140 nations represented now in this community certainly must have them. 

 

As happy as I may be with my sample shots above, it is always nicer to have a landmark clearly visible in the foreground or background.

Click on the image at right to enjoy the extraordinary image captured by Nikonian Albert Valentino (Valentino), with the Empire State Building, from the New Jersey shore.

..
Manhattan - 4th of July - Click for enlargement
Here, another, from Nikonian Stephen Wellman (Cammy) with a Washington, D.C. landmark. Click on it to see an enlargement.  
Washingtong, DC. Click for enlarghement

 

So try it next time and don't forget to show us your results.

(3 Votes)
Lyle Stavast Lyle Stavast (newlyle)

Allen, USA
Normal, 19 posts

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