This is a popular subject every year again. First of July in Canada, 4th of July in the USA and the 14th of July in France. Lots of fireworks to be shooting and to be missed if you don’t have the basics together. So let’s take a look at the necessities of shooting fireworks. If you have the intention of shooting them using an iPhone or Android, use your movie mode, fireworks will be clear and even have the sound. A little camera shake will be recorded most of the time, but that is part of the charm of a cellphone recording.
Should you want to shoot them using a DSLR, you will need a few things.
One, a tripod, as sturdy as you can get and afford. Sturdy tripods are fairly costly but worth every penny, cent or eurocent. Your camera should be motionless on top of that tripod. If the tripod comes with a handy extendable centre column, lower it to the max as it will not help you.
Two, a remote trigger for your camera, it can be an infrared remote or a corded one, anything goes as long as it won’t move the camera during exposure.
Three, a camera with either a long exposure setting like 30 seconds or a B setting allowing you to keep the shutter open for as long as you see fit.
And that’s it. Simple, eh? Well, now it is up to you to go and shoot them fireworks… Easier said than done.
What about the other settings? Well, your first reaction is to get your f-stop wide open, as open as your lens allows. That would be strike one. I stop down to f/11 or even f/22. Fireworks are bright, very bright. To capture their brilliant colours, you need to stop down and diminish that light a lot. Your longer exposure time of say 30 seconds will make up for the environment. Some “experts” tell you to use a black card to put in front of your lens when there are no fireworks going off. Just to be able to catch multiple shots at the same time.
In fact, the first shot for me is most always a throwaway shot. Fireworks companies usually fire off a warning shot at the beginning of the show to get your attention. I then use Autofocus on those streaks, ONCE. Then I switch the camera to manual focus and make sure I don’t touch the lens again. If I do (and trust me, that will happen) another fireworks shot will be sacrificed to get focus back. Again, AF, focus, switch to manual focus. The streaks are bright enough to focus on. My ISO is always the lowest ISO setting I can get away with. All the pics on this post were shot at ISO100 and ISO200 (that was the lowest on my D90 at the time).
When to trip the shutter? If you can hear the thud of the shots when they are fired, you can estimate more or less when you will get the best exposure time for the streaks. When I hear the thud of the explosion, I start my exposure and wait. The rest is child’s play. Just wait until your 30 seconds are up or until there are no more shots fired.
You may be wondering why I don’t talk about focal length. All depends on where you are during the fireworks. I try to get in mid-range, 300-400m (yards) away at least. I can then shoot with a wide angle that I like for my night shots. However, one year, I was at least 1200m away from the show and shot my fireworks with a 300mm. Some of those shots are here on this page now.
Where to place yourself in relation to the fireworks? Perpendicular or back to the wind. Fireworks give off a lot of smoke and debris. You don’t want that to come down on you while you are shooting. Downwind can give some interesting shots if you include the smoke, but you probably won’t enjoy the fireworks as much.
The last thing I always try to find is a quiet place to shoot. That’s not always easy to find if the show is to be the big one or the only one in town at that time. But having other people trip over your tripod while you’re shooting is not fun.
And fun is what this is all about. I enjoy shooting fireworks as much as I enjoy seeing them. To the point I sometimes forget to click the shutter.
There you have it, all there is to it is a little preparation.