How to Photograph Fireworks

It’s time again to offer up a few helpful tips for those photography buffs so they can take advantage of a fun photo opportunity.  Independence Day is right around the corner and the fireworks display in Grand Haven, MI is quite a show.  Thousands trek down to our waterfront and claim their spot on the grass and enjoy the show that is shot from Dewey Hill.  Or perhaps you’re one of the folks who likes to set off the backyard variety now that we can buy them here in Michigan.  Either way, you can capture some fun photos for your sharing enjoyment.

Equipment:

  • Camera – duh!  An slr,  dslr, mirrorless and even some point and shoots will work
  • Tripod
  • Flashlight
  • Trigger
  • Blanket

Prepare:

Plan your location for taking the photos.  If you’re in the midst of the crowd you’ll need anticipate people in front of you.  Also, please be mindful of the people behind you (hence the blanket).  Sit down if you have people behind you.  If you’re in the backyard, there is no need to be in the center of the activity.  You simply need a spot on the perimeter where you can get a view of the sky through your lens.

Camera settings:

You will need to run in manual mode.  If you’re in auto mode, the camera will want to produce a might lighter image than you’re really trying to accomplish.

  • Aperture – Start at 7.1 or 8.0, adjust to suit
  • ISO – 100 (this is generally where I start)
  • Shutter speed – 2 – 3 seconds.  This will change and the light fades and the show gets going.  You can use bulb mode for this for convenience.  The long shutter speed allows you to capture the light trails left by the explosives.  This is what makes photographing fireworks so much fun!  Careful, though, it can be a bit addicting to work with long shutter speeds.
  • It can be easy to overexpose the images with long exposure so be willing to adjust.  It does help that it typically gets darker the longer the show goes on.
  • Lens length – I typically use a wider lens (shorter focal length) to be able to get as much of the sky in the frame as possible.  If you’re further away from the action though, you may want to consider differently.

Set up

Place your camera on the tripod.   There is really no way possible to hand-hold the camera for this long of a shutter without getting some major camera shake and image blur.  Plus, who wants to hold their neck in that position!  ha! I used one like this for several years and it worked fine with equipment that’s not too heavy.

I also recommend the trigger to help eliminate any shake from the tripod moving when you touch the camera’s trigger.  If you don’t have a trigger for this time around, you can use the timer delay for your shutter but this will take some careful timing with the show.  If you have a dslr you can lock up the mirror to eliminate some of the vibration and be super careful when setting off the trigger.  Then pick up a remote trigger for the next time.  They are inexpensive and easy to operate.  I use an older version of these.

Use the flashlight to view your buttons and settings screen on your camera.

Focus

You can usually focus on the first set of fireworks with your auto focus.  From there, I would move your auto-focus button on your lens and leave it there.  Just be careful not to nudge it.  If you’re having trouble with the auto-focus, I have set my lens to focus at “infinity” and then just backed off just a smidge.  Works like a champ!

Vibration Control

Just a note that if you have a lens with vibration control, go ahead and turn it off.  The vibration control is for hand-held situations when the shutter speed may allow for some camera shake.

Have Fun!

Be sure that in your endeavor to learn something new, that you still enjoy the show!

Disclaimer:  This is my way of approaching it.  Others, I’m sure have different ways.  It’s all good.  🙂

 

 

 

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