Tonight I headed down to one of my local beaches to photograph the fireworks held for the Festival of Busselton. I really enjoy photographing fireworks, I think because it is fairly unpredictable as to what you are going to get each time. I thought I’d pop up a few of the photos and, with Australia Day Fireworks approaching, a quick tutorial on how to photograph fireworks.
1 – Gear:
You need a camera with some manual controls, something you can put in “M” mode or “B” mode, this way you can tell the camera exactly how long you want your photo to be and how much light to let in. You also need a tripod, I use Induro Tripods, Manfrotto are another decent brand that will be nice and sturdy. You need the tripod to make sure your camera doesn’t move at all while doing a long exposure. Other recommended equipment is a remote trigger, either a wireless one or one that plugs into your camera with a cable. The remote trigger is used for two purposes, firstly so you don’t bump your camera and make it shake and secondly so that you can be in bulb mode and dictate how long of an exposure you are taking for each shot.
2 – Getting Ready:
It is a really good idea to arrive very early so that you can plan your shot. A good photo is nearly entirely about how it is composed, what is included in the photo and what isn’t, arriving early means you should be able to find an unobstructed view of the fireworks. The last thing you want in the photo is people’s heads moving around in front of your shot. This is also a good time to pre-frame your photo so that you know what lens you are going to use. If you are really close up you’ll need something nice and wide to capture the fireworks, or if you are a decent distance away you may want to use a telefocal zoom.
3 – Composition:
First of all, watch your horizons. Most cameras today have a level that you can switch on to get your camera nice and level. A tilted horizon can be quite annoying in an otherwise great photo. Portrait or Landscape? I tend to aim to shoot a mix of both if I have time. Landscape photos can work better if you are close up and you’ve got a wide view, where as from a distance you may want to do a portrait photo to show just where the fireworks are. Obviously this is different for every situation and totally is up to you and your eye / taste.
4 – Settings:
This is usually the part that people skip to. Generally speaking I tend to use around the following settings:
ISO: 100-200, depending on your camera, whatever is lowest is going to give you the least amount of noise and will enable you to do a longer exposure without over exposing it.
Aperture: f11-f22 – This depends on how long of an exposure you want and how much ambient light there is. I’m usually wanting to do a longer (10 seconds or more) exposure to capture more action in 1 photo. If you want a shorter exposure, try f8-f11.
Shutter Speed: Bulb. I usually shoot in Bulb mode, that way I can keep the shutter open as long or short as I want. In Bulb mode you trigger the camera and the shutter will remain open until you release the trigger. This way I can have a longer exposure during the slower parts of the fireworks and a shorter exposure when the speed picks up. This also allows me to experiment with various shutter speeds to see what I like.
Focus: Use manual focus, usually at the infinity focus point, this will stop the camera from trying to focus for each photo you take.
5 – Other hints:
Turn your flash off, it isn’t going to light up the entire scene and will just annoy everyone else around you.
Turn off long exposure noise reduction, this takes as long as your exposure, so if you do a 10 second exposure, your camera is going to be unable to take another photo for at least another 10 seconds, meaning you’ll miss out on many photo opportunities.
Through out the fireworks be sure to check how your shots are coming out, that way you can adjust your settings mid show.
If you are finding your shots are too bright you have two options to fix it: shorter shutter speeds, which may result in less appealing photos or use a higher aperture (move from f11 to f16 or f22). If you are finding your shots are too dark, you can either do longer exposures or lower your aperture number (move from f16 towards f8).
If at all possible, work with the wind, you don’t want the wind blowing towards you otherwise your photos will be really hazy.
The biggest tip I can give you though is to experiment and see how you go!