Monday, May 23, 2016


There is more than one way to photograph fireworks. Here are some factors that can contribute to the quality of fireworks images:
1) The locale itself. Sometimes, firework displays are in great settings, like cityscapes, 
water reflections, or mountains as backdrops.
2) The quality of the firework displays alone can be a contributing factor.
3) Weather---rain, wind, fog, etc.

Now here are a few controllable factors that make it all worth the effort. Not all images will be "keepers," but these tips will increase your chances of getting some great fireworks---they've worked for me for many years.

First, I try to find out where the fireworks will be--from what location will the contractor be shooting off the fireworks? I like to get there several minutes before the fireworks begin, so I can find a good spot, make some test shots, decide on what focal length might work best, etc. 
During the display, I will alter my shots during the evening between vertical and horizontal shots. After just a few minutes, I know which of the two will work best for me during that particular evening. 

Lens. Depending on where I am standing, I will decide on my focal length. Usually, my 24mm-70mm lens will be my starting point. For those tight shots of just the fireworks, I will resort to 200mm-300mm--again, based on my distance to the fireworks display. Depending on how high the fireworks go, I might also use a 17mm-20mm range.
F/stop. Depending on the situation, I usually set my f/stop between f/8 & f/11. 

I have found that anything wider gives me over-exposed images.
Shutter Speed. I use the BULB setting. That, in essence, becomes my shutter speed.
ISO. I have used 100 for years with great success. Again, BULB is my shutter speed, therefore a higher ISO is a moot subject, since I'm in control of the "shutter speed."
Shutter Release. I use my cable release for more control and so I won't touch the camera during the firework displays. A remote release would work, but I prefer my cable release.
File Type. I've heard all the reasons why RAW is the only way to go. I've tried both RAW and JPEG and have found that JPEG Fine (largest file, with lowest compression) works just fine for me. It's a personal choice, so shoot with whatever you are used to or prefer.
Focus. Definitely manual focus! The movement from all the displays will confuse your auto- focus system and you will get some out of focus shots. The fireworks will be so far away from you that f/8 should cover enough depth of field to get sharp enough images. Additionally, I don't want to freeze every single burst perfectly---I want to include those streams of color at the end of the big bursts. Note: disengage the VR feature on your lens. It doesn't know the lens is on a tripod.
Single or Multiple Shooting? This is where shooting in BULB comes in. Read below for an explanation of my technique; my approach.

(always with a tripod)  

1) I aim my lens and set my focal length to where I think most of the fireworks will be that evening. I will fine-tune that after the fireworks begin.
2) I focus on any object which I think is roughly the same distance as the fireworks will be. 
Again, I will fine-tune that after the fireworks begin, manually focusing. I start with f/8 and adjust from there as the evening progresses.
3) This is the most important part of my technique.
A) I use any 5"x7" or slightly larger but opaque piece of material to cover and uncover my lens during the fireworks show. This can be anything: a gray card, light note book, CD cover, or just a folded 8.5"x11" piece of heavy paper. It serves as my "lens cap" AND, most importantly, my shutter!
B) When the fireworks begin, I will re-adjust my aim, focal length, and f/stop (if necessary) 
until I think most bursts will be covered with those adjustments. Then I tighten up my tripod head. Again, re-adjusting during the evening as needed.
C) I usually start with photographing 2-3 bursts in the same "frame." Here's how I do it. I remove my "lens cap" when I see a great display, and hit my cable release at the same time. I quickly cover my lens after I think I've photographed the first burst, but keep my finger on the cable release. When the next burst comes up, I remove my "lens cap" and photograph a second burst, then quickly cover my lens again. I now release the cable release. Voila! I have just photographed two bursts on a single "frame"-- in essence, a double exposure! I follow the same exact steps during the evening. Sometimes I repeat the process three times in a row to get 3 bursts in one image! Then I go back to just one burst. Then back to two, etc. I simply experiment back and forth all night, switching focal length, f/stop (if necessary), my aim, verticals and horizontals, and 1, 2, and 3 shots in one image.

I have gone home with some awesome fireworks images over the years using these simple in-camera technique. Here are some examples.

In Colorado, you will find some great fireworks in Breckenridge, Grand Lake, and Estes Park. In northwest Arkansas, I've read that Loch Lomond Dam in Bella Vista and Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs are good spots. 

Have fun. Loosen up. Experiment. Cheers.