Tips on Photographing Fireworks

June 30th, 2013

July 4th fireworks over Marblehead Harbor in Marblehead, Ma.

Fireworks in the harbor in Marblehead, Ma.

 

My favorite locations for photographing and viewing fireworks have always been by the water, preferably with some town/cityscape as a backdrop. I love the colored reflection on the water's surface and the added interest of glow lightly illuminating nearby boats and buildings. If you are thinking about doing some fireworks photography this year, I have some suggestions for you. 

First, what to bring: camera, tripod, cable release, bug spray if that's an issue where you live, and a small flashlight. Trust me, while you're shooting and when you're packing up to leave, that little light can come in very handy.

Second, where and when to go: Scope it all out ahead of time. Nothing is worse than arriving at your destination on July 4th and finding out that this place lights them on July 3rd. (yes, this happened to me, but only once and I learned my lesson!) Arrive early and pick out your spot. If you are at a water location, find out where the pyro barge will be and decide what else you want in your compositions. Look for a spot in front of and away from other people as much as is possible.

Third, how to shoot: Attach your cable release to your camera and pop it on to your tripod.  For all who shoot in all auto mode, sorry but only manual mode works well for fireworks. Set your focus to infinity and keep the focus on manual.  If your lens has built in image stabilization, turn that feature off. You want a low ISO to cut down on noise. I recommend  ISO 100 and I definitely wouldn't go any higher than 200. Instead of selecting a shutter speed, set your camera to B for bulb. This keeps the shutter open until you decide to close it allowing you to "burn in" the firework trails and other wanted ambient light. You will be using your cable release to trigger the shutter, decreasing the likelihood of any unwanted movement to your camera. I start off with my aperture at F8 and keep the shutter open for around 4 seconds. I check out what I'm getting and make any adjustments that I want or need  to make either by keeping the shutter open longer or shorter or opening up or closing down my aperture. 

One last "trick": I also bring with me a small piece of black cardboard. Every fireworks show that I've been to starts off with relatively long pauses between bursts and builds up to the grand finale where lots of fireworks go off one right after the other. The finale is amazing, but at a certain point there can be too much smoke in the sky. To capture multiple bursts in one image at the beginning of the show, I lock my cable release on open, get my 4 or so seconds in when I hear that first whoosh as they light one off, then carefully, so I don't bump the camera, place my black card in front of the lens and wait until I hear the next whoosh and pull the card away. How many times do I do this? As many as I want.

Happy 4th everyone.

MA_860s

 

Boston

 

Boston

The three above taken in Boston, Ma.

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