- 6 Tips to Help You Nail Fireworks Photography
Photographing fireworks can be challenging to do but once you learn the basics you'll unlock a world of creative possibilities. In this article, Canon Photographer Colin Baker shares his top tips to help get you started.
Find the right vantage point
Consider your position carefully, and find somewhere that takes advantage of your background. Think about introducing some foreground, or you could stand 500 meters away from the action and use a telephoto lens to create great depth compression. Consider the practicality of using a tripod in a crowd. Although you need it to do long exposures, it may become a frustrating experience if there's a good chance of it being bumped. Where you choose to set up is crucial.
Focusing is your friend
Once you're setup in your chosen position, grab your camera and switch on single autofocus (preferably select the centre point). Point the camera at an object in a distance greater than 20 metres away and auto-focus on that object (take a test shot to check the sharpness). Lock the lens on manual focus (be careful not to bump the multi-function focus ring on the lens) and attach it to the tripod. Now your lens is setup to infinity focus and will grab those fireworks, crisply and cleanly. If you have an issue mid-show: turn autofocus back on; shoot a distant well-lit object; and repeat.
Timing is everything
Consider the length of time you're going to set for your exposure. Shooting at a standard 1/125th" is not going to give that WOW factor, you really need to begin at 2" minimum.
Lock your camera focus down on its tripod, point it in the right direction and zoom in to gain the desired composition. Next, set the camera to full manual and set your ISO to 400. An aperture of f4 with a 2" exposure is a good starting point.
Tip: Remote triggers are worth the cost! Bumping your tripod by pressing the button manually will ruin a good firework shot. If you have one, keep your finger on the button and action the frame as soon as the firework cracks into life. If you don't and are relying on a 2 second timer, you will need to hit the button as the mortar 'thumps' when the firework leaves the tube.
Playing Around with Shutter Speed
Once you've nailed a few 2" shots, try changing your shutter speed to 0.8th", lower your ISO to 100 and keep your aperture at f4. This will give you the same exposure and allow for 0.8" worth of action to be captured, creating a busier scene in your image.
If you want to push the envelope a little further, try a full 30". Keep your ISO at 100 and lift your aperture to f8. This will give you the same exposure, but allows for 30 generous seconds of fireworks to be captured in one frame.
From these 3 setups you can choose which is the most suited to your particular fireworks display.
Getting Creative with Zooming
Experiment by zooming in or out during a long exposure. Setup for a 2" shot with the settings above, release the shutter and begin the frame with a firework explosion. While the camera is exposing within those 2 seconds, turn your zoom ring on the lens and watch what happens.
Jump into the multiple exposure setting of your camera; select additive mode and at least three frames. Keep your 2" settings mentioned above, click the shutter three times in a row and the camera will compile all three exposures into one frame.
If you don't have this setting on your camera, select bulb mode, f.4 and ISO 100. Hold down the button on your remote release and a piece of black cardboard in your other hand positioned in front of the lens blocking light, then simply move the cardboard to the side each time there is a nice firework explosion.
Tips and images by Colin Baker.
Banner Image by Adrian Wilson Photography
Bring your shots to life with this comprehensive guide to long exposure photography—includes tips on everything from camera gear and settings to working with ND filters and processing.
Step up your macro photography skills with Grand Master photographer Jacqui Dean. Tips on everything from focus stacking to specialised gear and lighting.