How to take pictures of fireworks
This post is for students or those who want to know more about the subject, and is directed towards use of a DSLR camera.
Get to your location early so you can get a view w/o blocking someone else’s as you’ll likely be kneeling often if seated on the ground. If you’re seated in a short lawn chair it might even be better. But note that you’ll be looking straight up at the sky often in many locations. You’ll need to be able to lean back that far to aim your camera. You’ll definitely need a tripod or some very steady object on which to set you camera as the shutter speeds will be too slow to hand hold w/o causing blurring. I recommend the tripod! If you’re on the ground you won’t need to fully extend the tripod legs, but you’ll likely be kneeling upright for many shots. Ideally you’ll have a cable release and a piece of stiff cardboard to hold in front of your lens. With your camera set on manual put it on “B” for bulb or basement. This setting, which is indeed tricky, will allow you to keep the shutter open for 2 or more bursts of the fireworks on the same frame if desired, but the results can be wonderful! No cable release means you’ll need to have the timer set on 2 secs. But I’ve found this to demand a lot of guesswork as to when the next burst will appear. Swinging up a tripod arm as the burst flies up into the air is more effective. But use what you have. There’s always next year.
Why all the precautions? The idea is to NOT touch your camera once the shot has begun as it will result in blurry shots. Please practice finding your camera’s buttons and dials by touch. It will be dark and you will be momentarily blinded after each shot. Make sure you know where the button is to light up your settings if you have one. You can bring a small flashlight to practice your set-up but there sill be no time to use it once the display starts.
Suggested settings: ISO-100, F- 7.1 – 8.00 generally, Focus – set and locked onto Infinity. Most definitely take it off of auto-focus. Disable your flash. It won’t reach the heavens anyway, and might instead light up the back of someone’s head in front of you! That would mean a lot of Photoshopping later! Shutter – 2- 5 seconds if using a timer, or use the bulb (B) setting. This B setting will open the shutter once you press the shutter button (cable release) and it will remain open until you click the shutter button (cable release) again. This means, you will need to cover the front of your lens with the cardboard piece I mentioned above in between shots if you want multiple exposures. Take off your lens hood if it is the petal shaped kind as light will sneak in the sides of it behind the cardboard. For multiples it’s a guess how long to keep the shutter open. The brighter the blast, the shorter the exposure. Try 1- 2 seconds, cover the lens then repeat with the next one and close it. I time it the old-fashioned way by saying quickly to myself, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi…” Practice that with the second hand on a watch!
Ready to go? Kneeling or sitting on a chair point your camera at the sky where you hope the burst will be. Practice with your tripod’s arm so it is flexible enough for you to move it quickly, but not so loose it isn’t steady. How far up to the sky can you look? Once the display gets going you’ll have to work fast with both hands and arms. There will hardly be any time to review anything w/o possibly missing the next great one. Usually the first couple are your practice shots. But if you have a few seconds, do a review to see if your timing is working well enough.
When it gets to the big finale up your F-stop to F-16 to help prevent over exposure as multiple shots will come at once. You’d better know where that F-stop dial is!
Need I say “practice” again? If you’re using a point and shoot camera, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you some other pointers for that kind of camera.