Fireworks can be tricky to photograph and get good pictures. In this tutorial we will give you some tips and hints to make awesome pictures of firework displays. Shooting fireworks is very similar to shooting lightning except they are a bit more predictable and you are guaranteed to return with a set of great pictures which is not the case when out shooting lightning.
One big difference between shooting lightning and fireworks is you really want to control your shutter length and running in a intervalometer or some other automatic shutter release is not recommended. So a shutter release cable is highly recommended. To get the best pictures a good sturdy tripod is also a must.
- Remote shutter release cable
- Manual Mode
- ISO 100
- Aperture f/4-8
- Shutter manually controlled in bulb mode
- Focus set to manual
Shooting fireworks at night is different compared to normal night shooting, the flashes from the fireworks can be very bright so it is highly recommended to run at lowest native ISO in your camera. Lowest native ISO on most cameras is 100 or 200 depending on brand and model. Nikon D80, D7000, D800 and D4 for example uses 100 as native while Nikon D700 and D3s has a lowest native ISO of 200. If your ISO is set to high you risk getting a lot of blown out details in the brightest spots in the fireworks.
With help of the aperture setting is how you control the brightness and details your getting from the fireworks. Normally night time photography it is the shutter that controls how much you want to brighten up the scene but trust me the fireworks are bright and due to the fleeting nature of the flashes you have to ensure proper aperture levels to send the right amount of light to your sensor.
You want to be in 100% control of the shutter time, this allows you to control when to start the exposure and when to end it to capture just a single explosion or a set of them and capture it from start to finish. There is nothing that ruins a firework picture as much as having a big black hole in the middle where the explosion or just capture a small bloom of the fireworks when it might be big enough to fill the majority of your frame. The bigger we can capture the more impressive it will look but if your having the shutter open to long you will risk overlapping to many fireworks flowers in the single shot and it will not come out very good at all and will only look cluttered.
The best way is to shoot manual in bulb mode, press the button as the shell is is launched and release the shutter button once the flower reached satisfactory size. This means you might have a exposure somewhere between 0.5 sec to as long as 4sec. The important thing is that we want to get the timing right which is why automatic shutter release is not recommended to ensure the maximum of keepers. At a few times I been lazy and set shutter time to 2.5 or 3sec and locked my release cables shutter button and let the camera snap picture after picture. This means from a 15min fireworks display you end up with 300 to 360 pictures, a handful of these are almost guaranteed to be good, but if the firework display is short or just a few shells this might not work out.
Framing and lens choice
This going to depend a lot on where the fireworks are being shoot and what ambient light is available and what you want to achieve. It can be pretty beautiful to have silhouette of people in the foreground or building and trees. The one shot I personally hope to catch one of these days would have a lake or some for of water body in the foreground where you can see the fireworks reflecting in the water. A zoomed in shoot that only captures the firework flower can also be beautiful but this could be shot anywhere and something I would suggest doing when capturing regular consumer fireworks since they tend to be far smaller than the commercial that is used at big displays and events.
As for the choice of lens fast glass is NOT necessary so a regular kit lens is more than plenty. A wide angle lens is probably want will work best. In the even you are really close to the fireworks a extreme wide angle lens might be even better. Even at large distance I found limited use of a large zoom lens, 11-50mm tend to be my preferred zoom levels even when I been at great distance.