Fireworks Photography Made Simple
So the 4th of July is about to be upon us and you want to capture those beautiful colors and streaming beams of light. Only problem is we have a really bring super fast burst of light against a dark background. That and nailing that split second action must take some super precise calculations right? Fireworks photography is actually very easy to get some very acceptable results. A couple of things you will need to make that great shot of the backyard shenanigans or that major show over the lake, river or ocean. Camera, tripod, lens and a shutter release if you have one.
First off if you have the opportunity choose your location with the best composition you can get. Something other than a super zoomed in shot of a single firework will have best results and add interest to your shot. Even if it is just a person or a street lamp a building anything will add to the image. Obviously try and find a spot with a large amount of sky as the fireworks are the star of the show for these images. If you are lucky enough to have a beautiful scene before you use it to your advantage, water makes great reflections and a more dynamic image overall. While it is still light or at the beginning of the show get a really solid focus just shy of infinity, easy to accomplish with most lenses by simply autofocusing on a light or even a firework that is at or beyond the max focusing distance of your given lens. Most wider angle lenses this is within 30 feet of where you are. Once you have a solid focus turn the auto focus function off on the lens or the camera body. Turn your dial to the dreaded M (Manual) mode as none of the other settings will work as your camera will want to expose everything properly yet you won’t want that at all.
Once you are in Full Manual mode (Ensure that AUTO ISO is turned off), set your aperture to f/11 your shutter speed to 1 second and ISO 100. This should get you very close depending on the ambient light in the sky. Adjusting the aperture to f/16 or so might be necessary if it is still fairly bright to begin with. As the show goes on and the sky darkens you can play with the shutter speed I find that my best shots happen between 3 & 6 seconds of exposure time. Having a sturdy, preferably weighted tripod will yield the best results as will that shutter release cable or wireless shutter release. If you do not have one using the cameras self timer set to 2 seconds will work. Avoid touching the camera during the exposure for ultra crisp images. Lastly a little talked about issue is something called light leak and can ruin your photos especially the longer exposures at night. What light leak is, is any type of light that hits the back of your camera through the viewfinder is captured by the sensor and commonly throws a red hue across the center of the image. It can be a real bear to try and remove in post processing and is extremely easy to avoid all together. simply place a dark cloth, piece of tape whatever over the viewfinder itself after you have your camera placed where you want it, after all you won’t be needing to look through it, your images and lightroom will thank you later.
Have fun out there and have a great 4th of July!!