The boss-man was recently quoted in an EHow Tech article about taking photos of fireworks. The quotes were taken from a super helpful series of questions and answers about taking firework photos with your DSLR. If you want to take amazing pictures this 4th of July, check out the Q&A below!
Why should I use manual mode for best results?
If you try and shoot fireworks on automatic settings, the camera will want to do two things that you do not want it to do: use flash (useless for any subjects more than 30 feet away) and the lowest aperture the camera can choose (which will prevent you from getting detail in your explosions/bursts).
Can you speak on using a timed exposure?
Timed exposure is critical – you have to have your shutter open long enough to catch the actual explosion of the firework (a lot of guesswork sometimes) AND have it remain open long enough to register the ‘light trails’ of fire extending into the sky after the explosion.
What are the best shutter speeds to try for fireworks photos?
I really like shutter speeds of at LEAST a second and as much as six or seven seconds. The variance has much to do with your ambient light sources around your location. If you are in a completely dark area, the longer shutter speeds will allow you to capture multiple explosions in the same frame. When there is a lot of light in your surroundings – that light may become distracting on the longer exposures.
Should I mess with the aperture setting?
Actually, you should set your camera to ISO 400 or 800 and *start* with the aperture setting! You want an aperture setting of at least f4, so when the firework explodes in the sky you can see the detail versus a big blob of light. The ‘big blob of light’ is what you will get with a larger aperture opening like f2.8. A happy place for your aperture is where you get good bright visible light on your camera’s display WITH detail during the firework explosions (when you zoom in on the back of the camera). If the fireworks are too dark, choose a larger aperture (lower f-number) and if the detail is lost choose a smaller aperture (higher f-number).
What is the benefit of using a tripod for firework photography? Any tips for using one?
Whether you are using a car hood, a rock, a cement wall or an actual tripod – something to keep your camera very steady during long exposures is an absolute must! Anytime you try to shoot anything with exposure longer than half a second (2 on your camera) – you will get blurry photographs without some sort of tripod.
How do I time the photographs right?
This takes a little bit of guesswork, but the biggest indicator of good timing for me has always been the explosion of the fireworks leaving the ground. You hear a big “phoomp” and anywhere from a second to a few seconds later you will see the explosion in the air! If it takes 2 seconds for the firework to travel from the ground to viewing area and you are using a shutter speed of a 2.5 seconds – pause one second after you hear the “phoomp” and click the shutter as the firework is rising – you will catch a perfect shot!
What’s the effect of varying shutter speed and/or aperture? Ex. light trails, background exposure, etc.
Once you get the detail in the firework, you really want to leave your aperture alone. The remainder of your experimentation should be with your shutter speed. A faster shutter speed will: make the fireworks smaller because the shutter isn’t open long enough to catch the light individual ‘fingers’ running all across the sky, make the background darker, and probably eliminate some of the visible smoke in your photo. A slower shutter speed will make bigger fireworks because the shutter is open long enough to catch the initial explosion and all the subsequent spread of the explosion, bring in your background or surrounding area (ambient light), and likely cause you to see more smoke in your photo because more light is reflecting off of the smoke in the sky.
What is the best time of evening to shoot firework photos? Nighttime, daytime, dusk, etc.
I know this is a funny answer, but the best time of the evening to shoot fireworks is when the fireworks are being fired off! You will get the best “extension” (spread) if you shoot late enough in the day or evening to drag your shutter without overexposing your overall shot. I like shooting them in the dark because there is no ambient light to keep me from capturing the fireworks themselves.
Some point and shoot cameras have a fireworks setting. Is it a good idea to use this?
I have never used a point-and-shoot camera with a fireworks setting, but it is always worth a try to see if the camera can come up with a better result than you can using the guidelines above!
Is it possible to get good fireworks photos with a smartphone? Are you aware of any apps?
From Patrick: If you have a smart phone that is smart enough to let you go completely manual on your settings – sure thing! The basics of aperture, ISO, shutter speed will serve you no matter the device. From Our Content Manager: Top Camera is an iPhone app that allows you to change your settings as if you were using a DSLR, and Pro HDR is great for long exposure photography. They both come highly recommended by a PWP staff member who only takes pictures with her iPhone, and leaves the DSLR cameras to the pros!
Any other tips you having for shooting fireworks?
Site selection is a huge topic for great photos of fireworks for a couple of reasons: ambient light and wind. If you have a bunch of really intense streetlights, spotlights, or other brightly lit items in the frame – they will become overwhelming when you drag your shutter for a long exposure. Try to eliminate bright light sources from your photo. As far as the wind is concerned – follow my logic: fireworks are explosions, explosions create smoke, and shooting through smoke will have hazing effect on your photos. If at all possible – pick a place that is upwind versus downwind from the fireworks you are targeting!
Enjoy taking some beautiful firework photos and have a happy 4th of July!