Fireworks are fantastic to see in photos but are really hard to shoot well. There are a number of techniques that can allow you to take some spectacular shots of fireworks.
Plan in advance. Make sure you have an unobstructed view of the fireworks by arriving well before the show begins. Find a place away from light sources (signs, lamps, car lights) and where people won’t walk in front of you. Finally, make sure you’re upwind of the fireworks display. Fireworks create smoke that will obscure the display if the smoke is between you and the explosions. On the other hand, smoke behind the explosions will reflect the light and make a better shot.
If you don’t have a tripod handy, you will get some camera movement. You can counter this and create a special effect by exaggerating the movement by moving the camera in a circular motion, or zooming in. But you'll never get proper fireworks shots without a tripod, or something to sit your camera on.
For best effect, you really need a camera where you can control the shutter speed and the aperture. Some cheaper P&S cameras may not allow you to get the best results, but it’s always worth trying to see how you go.
Use long exposure times (keep the shutter open for a long time). You will want to capture both the initial explosion as well as the trails left behind by the burning particles. Anywhere from just under a second to more than 15 seconds will work. Try a few different options and use what’s best.
If the sky is black, you can leave the shutter open for a long time and wait for the right firework to be in your viewfinder. Alternatively, you can cover the lens with a piece of black cardboard until the right firework arrives.
If you can’t control the shutter speed, take LOTS of shots. Use Continuous mode to keep the camera shooting. Some of the shots won’t work, but you should get a number of good shots for the night.
Use a Cable Release or remote control. This is a button on a lead that allows you to tell the camera to take the shot without moving the camera itself. If you use the shutter release on the camera, you can wobble the camera too much and produce unwanted effects. If you don’t have a cable release, you can use the timer function of the camera so it takes the shot a few seconds after you press the button. Note you’ll need to pre-empt the firework so the camera shutter is open at the correct time.
Focus. Most of the time all fireworks will be the same distance from you, so you can use the same focus setting on your camera for the whole show. Use the first few fireworks to set the focus and set your camera to use that for future shots. This will save a second or two in focus time for each image. If your camera can’t preset focus, set it to Landscape Mode.
Turn off the flash. If you can’t turn it off, try covering it with something like tape.
If you want full-framed shots, you should use a telephoto lens. Keep your tripod head loose and follow the tracer with your viewfinder. Release the shutter when it explodes. To include most of the fireworks in a scene, the regular lens is fine. Zoom in enough to compose all your fireworks.
Make sure there are no unwanted buildings or lights in frame that will distract from the final shot.
Once you have your photos, merge the fireworks together using Image Manipulation software. It’s a lot easier to get an image with lots of fireworks if you take lots of images separately and merge them together afterwards on a computer. You can even make some fireworks appear smaller or larger to make a more balanced and pleasing composition. The quickest way to merge firework images is to use Photoshop and the “Screen” layer merge option.
Every situation is unique so the best advice is to go to a place that regularly runs fireworks shows and get lots of practice. Or just go out, have fun, and enjoy the night!
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