Fireworks Photography: You Can! (2)

Well, assuming that you’ve got your tripod and now you have your remote shutter release, you’re just about ready to go this Friday night!  This is Part 2 of the basics of fireworks photography.

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  • First, set up your tripod and level it (depending on your tripod and if it or you have a level, close enough may do it).
  • Next, attach your camera to the tripod.
  • Then, attach your remove release (cable-type) or make sure your camera strap isn’t blocking the remote receptor (wireless-type).
  • Set your shutter to “B” for bulb.  You’ll want to open the shutter as soon as you see the shot go up.  Close the shutter when the last streams of color fade out.  The image shown here was a 15-second exposure.
  • Set your aperture to f8 (or more). This will give you sharp rendition of the color streams.  The image here was shot at f14 due to the high ISO I used.
  • Set your ISO to 200 (or more).  The image here was shot at 800 due to the ambient light that I was dealing with – I wanted to keep the exposure as short as possible.  You see the effect of the ambient light reflecting in the smoke.
  • You’re going to need to focus manually – so turn off your autofocus and focus at infinity.  Some folks like to back off from infinity a tad – but a high (small) aperture generally takes care of that.
  • If your lens has vibration reduction / anti-shake, you’re going to need to turn that off as well.
  • You won’t know exactly where to aim the camera until the first shot goes up – you’ll need to move the tripod head accordingly while you watch the first shot through the viewfinder or screen.  And then – go wider and higher than the first shot, because composing the shot is really an educated guess.  The shots will vary in height and width – and you won’t know until you see it.  You can always crop the shot later.
  • If there are street lights in your frame, do your best to compose the picture so that they are gone – they will certainly mess up your picture.
  • Smoke as seen in the image here is something you can’t control – you can only crop it out.  If they’re shooting low, it’s probably going to end up being something you’re going to have to deal with.
  • If you can shoot “RAW” images on your camera as well as JPG, certainly do so!  This will give you more flexibility when you process your images.
  • Check yourself as you go and see how things look in your monitor.
  • If the fireworks look too dark and the sky is really black, increase the ISO one stop (for example, from 200 to 400). 
  • Keep checking for composition and exposure – and keep adjusting as you need to. 
  • If the sky looks washed out or shades of gray instead of black and the fireworks appear too bright – decrease the ISO or increase your aperture. 
  • When they’re getting ready for the grand finale, increase your aperture to f14 or more as they’re typically longer shots, which call for a longer exposure.  Increasing the aperture counters the effects of the longer exposure.

If this sounds like a really simple explanation, it is.  Remember, The Frog is self-taught, and learned by trial and error using Kodachrome® 64 slide film many moons ago.  Digital makes it much easier – you can see how you’re doing and make adjustments in near-real time.  Way back when, you hoped for the best when you sent the film out for processing – and waited for a week or so to see how you did, and adjustments were mental notes for the next year.  What’s been covered here is what goes on every time I’m doing digital fireworks photography.

So, those are the basics!  Go out!  Have fun!  Check yourself as you go.  And, be safe.  Oh, by the way, don’t forget to take a small flashlight!  (It makes life a lot easier… trust me on that one!)

We’ll talk about the basics of processing after the holiday weekend.

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