6 Steps to Shoot Fireworks Like a Pro
by Eric Leslie
Shooting fireworks seems scary at first, but with a few basic tips you'll be churning out jaw-dropping shots that will be the envy of all your Facebook friends. There are basically two things you have to have to pull this off. You need a tripod and a camera that can be controlled manually.
- Shoot from a tripod There is just no way around this one. You have to lock down your camera. If you try to do this handheld, the fireworks will have wobbly lines in stead of smooth ones. It doesn't have to be expensive, that old school one from the 1970s you were drooling over at a yard sale will get the job done.
- Go manual or go home For beginners, this step can shudder in feelings of anxiety and trepidation. Go ahead and do it, you only need to be brave for a moment. Ok deep breath — now we can move on to some of the reasoning behind what we're trying to do. Even if your camera has a "fireworks" mode, it still has no clue what it needs to do on it's own. It has no idea how bright the fireworks are going to be, it has no clue how long to hold the shutter open. It's not as smart as you are, okay?
- Pre-focus your camera before the show As a general rule auto focus doesn't work in the dark. There are a couple ways focus. If you have a lens with distance units on the focus ring, manually set the focus at infinite . You can also look for a bright object/light that's far away. If you can find a street light or even the moon if it's out. All of those will work for autofocus. Once it's focused, switch the lens to manual focus to lock it in. Be careful not to bump it again.
- Set Your ISO to 100 The fireworks are brighter than you might expect, so in an effort to keep your fireworks from blowing out, set your ISO as low as possible. Most cameras go down to 100, some 50 and others 200. Just go as low as possible.
- Set your shutter speed to "Bulb"
Take the exposure dial and roll it all the way past 30 seconds until it reaches bulb mode. Some cameras may require you turn in on through a menu. Consult your manual because every camera is a little different.Bulb mode holds the shutter open as long as you have your finger on the button. While you can pull off shooting fireworks with a fixed length shutter speed, you just don't have any control. Let me explain, basically you only want the shutter open long enough to catch a good group of fireworks. So if you shoot a 15 second exposure, there could be ten bursts in that time frame. They will all be overlapping one another and it won't look good.
So what I like to do on bulb mode is wait for clear black sky between bursts, hold the shutter open and do my best to close the shutter quickly after a good group has lit up. On my last trip I probably took 100 shots, but only about 10 of them had good groups of fireworks. It takes some practice, but you'll get it.
I got really luck here because these three firework bursts all exploded perfectly lined up like this.
- Play with aperture to expose the fireworks properly So fireworks are usually far enough away where the depth of field ( the amount of the scene in focus) is not an issue. So we are going to use the aperture to properly expose the fireworks. I like to start at f/8 as starting point and adjust from there. You'll have to be quick on your feet during the first few firework bursts to make adjustments. If the the fireworks are too bright, stop it down to a smaller aperture (bigger number). If the fireworks are too dim, open up the aperture to let more light in (smaller number).
When I was learning this for the first time, I struggled to readjust my mind around how to properly expose a shot. I usually start by setting the aperture to get the depth of field I need. Next the shutter speed, fast or slow depending on what I'm trying to do in the shot. Last, I set the ISO to expose the shot properly at the shutter speed I chose. Here we're starting with a fixed ISO, the shutter speed is simply a matter of catching the fireworks at the right time and we're using the aperture to control the amount of light entering the camera.
With the help of a friend or family member, you can practice the night before. Give them a flashlight after dark and have them write their name or draw something. I use similar settings to properly expose a bright flash light pointed right in the camera in the dark, so it's great practice adjust the settings and getting a feel for what you need to do before game-time.
Here was some light writing I did during blue hour to myself "warmed up" for the real fireworks shot to come.
Fireworks are notoriously easy to process unless you get into compositing them together into bigger shots. All of these shots are basically straight out of camera. I'd love to see the shots you create, post up links in the comments so we can all enjoy your creations!