Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see fireworks light up the night sky. They make for wonderful sights and sounds for large gatherings, but fireworks also make great photographs. Its just about knowing how to capture such colorful images.
Shooting fireworks is fairly simple, but it takes some planning and equipment to do so. However, follow these tips and you too can have wonderful photos of those sky rockets.
- SLR Camera
- Wide angle lens, preferably one that widens to 28 mm
- Adjustable Tripod
- Flash light
- Extra memory card (optional)
First and foremost, make sure you have the details of the fireworks show: what time it starts, where its at, and even then, arrive early and scope out the layout of the show. It should be easy enough to locate, at a safe distance, the firing pods for the show.
Once you’ve done that, find the right angle to set up the tripod and camera and then set up so there’s no obstruction from other spectators nor are you taking from their viewing experience, as well. If you set up early enough, you will not need a flashlight, but if you set up while waiting and its too dark, make sure to use your flashlight so you can see the camera buttons.
It would be best to use a tripod that fully adjustable, including being able to raise higher, as well as tilting back as to angle the camera at the sky. Once there, lock the camera in place and it shouldn’t need to be moved much during the fireworks show.
I recommend using a fixed 28mm lens, as to get the whole sky. An adjustable lense that goes to 75mm or even 125 can be used to zoom, but also consider using a fisheye lense, especially if you want the panoramic view to go with the fireworks shot.
The best settings for your camera that will get you the best fireworks shots is ISO 100 and putting the f-stop to about 8. Depending on the conditions, as well as how quickly the fireworks explode in the sky, the f-stop can be moved down to 7 or even 6.3. The reason the f-stop has to be higher than usual is because the fireworks need time to get up in the air and detonate. Putting it at 8 allows the time for the firework to explode and open with its brilliant colors. If these settings don’t work, the fireworks can be easily timed, then you can adjust the f-stop accordingly.
Also needed will be to move the shutter speed down, at least, below 6/10 of a second. More than likely you’ll have to shoot with a 1’ shutter speed, as it will need to stay open a bit to catch the light of the fireworks, which will likely not be close given your wide length and viewing distance.
Fireworks shows usually last 20-30 minutes. Some may last longer depending on the event, however, during that time, you will be able to get many shots of many different rockets going off. That being said, make sure that there’s plenty of room on your card and I recommend using one of at least 2 GB of storage. Its probably a good idea, just in case, to have an extra card in your pocket if you happen to fill up the card in the camera quickly.
If you lens has a built-in stabilizer, you may want to turn it off, however, if the tripod is a little wobbly, keeping the stabilizer is helpful. The stabilizer is designed to prevent “camera shake” and that is handy when trying to keep night shots steady, as, again, you’re likely to have the shutter speed down to either ‘1 or longer.
Now that you’ve got the fireworks shots, its time to edit. I personally use Adobe Lightroom, but Photoshop or iPhoto works just as well. And when it comes to editing fireworks, you want to bring forward the colors and the lights while drowning out the background.
Suggested edit would be to sharpen and clarify the images, as they’re likely to be a tad soft due to low light and camera settings. After that turning down the highlights and whiteness will make the firework streams and “flower” explosion really pop. Try not to go heavy on the saturation, as it will bleed into the sky and other explosions and look fabricated.
One other suggestion for editing can be — and I’ve used this myself — is to use the radial filter to pull forward one certain firework explosion, especially if its larger or stands out from the others.
As far as editing goes, if you are not confident in your Photoshop or Lightroom skills or just don’t want to spend too much time behind the monitor, find a professional editor who will be able to get the most out of your pictures. I suggest to find a retoucher via an online contest at Phowd and in the end you will be able to step back and say, ‘What a great shot!’!
Hopefully, with the tips above, you too can come away with spectacular fireworks photos. Good luck!