Friday, July 1, 2011

Some fireworks photo tips

It's that time of year when all pyro nuts get to blow things up and shoot things into the sky to their hearts' content. For some of us it's more fun to capture the excitement in photographs. So here are some tips on fireworks photography that will work no matter where you're at.

- Use a tripod! Your pictures are going to look much better if the camera is still and the fireworks are moving through the photo. This way you can use a long shutter speed to capture the trails of sparks exploding in the sky.

- Use a cable release. You can watch the fireworks without looking through the viewfinder and know when to open the shutter just before a burst happens. It also helps keep your camera and tripod steadier than trying to push the shutter button itself.

- Think about the whole photo. If catching the colorful explosions is the only thing you're after, zoom in tight like this -

However, I like having something else in my fireworks photos to give some depth. It's usually pretty easy to find something to silhouette in front of the pyrotechnics. Like some friends sitting on a car roof -

If the fireworks display you are photographing is near water, use that to reflect the brilliant colors. With boats floating in the reflections, you have a very interesting composition.

- Turn off your flash! It might seem like it's dark out, so you need to add some light into the scene. The flash is only going to reach so far and light up anything close to the camera, not make the fireworks brighter. In most cases, the dark silhouette is a much more pleasing effect. Automatic flash settings will also shorten exposures so you won't get many fireworks bursts in your photo.

- Start with a shutter speed of around 4-5 seconds and an aperture of f/8 or f/11. To me the best fireworks photos have several bursts in them like the boat shot above. So using the bulb setting and a cable release you can hold the shutter open for several bursts and then check the image on your camera back screen. You should be able to decide whether you want more or less bursts and adjust from there. If most of the bursts are happening in exactly the same spot in the sky there is a danger of ending up with just a very bright hotspot and no details in the spark trails. If this is the case, shorten the length of time the shutter is open.

- Don't be afraid to move to a new spot once you see the fireworks. Too often I see someone pick out a tripod location and stick with it even though the fireworks are not where they expected. It may take some adjusting to find just the right composition when you have no control where those bursts are going to happen.

Good luck and have a safe and happy Fourth of July!


Anonymous said...

Love this last shot!

M. Hite said...

Hey Chad,
I was looking at your pictures of the Badlands. We were there last year and none of my pictures turned out very good. I admit my hand usually shakes when I push the button. I would love to buy the picture of the sunset. I checked the South Dakota tourism page and it wasn't listed. Is there somewhere else I can go to buy it?

M. Hite

Chad Coppess said...

If you can tell me exactly which picture you are looking at, I can make it available in my CafePress store. Give me something like third picture in post titled "____" and I'll be able to figure it out. Thanks!