As life returns to normal, this Summer promises to be full of special memories you’ll want to capture with photos. With many communities resuming Fourth of July celebrations, there’s no better way to challenge your photographic skills than taking pictures of fireworks.
Traditionally the ability to take good pyrotechnic shots has been limited to higher-end equipment. Today, most moderately priced cameras and even some smartphones have the capability to produce good results, with some planning and practice.
First you’ll want to use a camera that allows manual control. We’re going to turn off all of the automatic settings. Consult your manual or go online to learn about manually operating your camera.
Secondly, you’ll want to to use a tripod, or support your camera so that it doesn’t move. We’ll be using long-exposure times, and any movement will cause the image to be blurry. Even pressing the button to take the photo can cause unwanted movement, so we’ll need to use a remote camera trigger. Most modern cameras are Bluetooth capable, so controlling them remotely is as simple as using a smartphone app. If your using your phone as the camera, many have voice control. (Siri, take a photo!)
Take the time, ahead of time, to plan your shooting. If you know where you’ll be, pick a spot where your camera won’t get bumped. Tripod legs are easy to trip over in the dark.
Now that we know what camera we’ll be using, and where we’ll be, lets look at the settings we’ll be using. First, turn off the flash. Next, we are going to open the iris up as wide as it goes. Most cameras display this information as “f-stops”. The lower the better. Now we’ll adjust the shutter speed. Normally a camera will take a photo in a fraction of a second, like 1/60th of a second. We’re going to set the shutter to be open for at least 3 to 5 seconds. The longer the shutter is open, the more of a “trailing effect” your photos will have. Then we’ll manually set the focus to be as distant as possible, sometimes referred to as infinity or the “∞” symbol. Lastly, we’ll want to set the ISO to a low value like 400 or lower.
Also, if using a phone camera, avoid using digital zoom. You can crop the photos afterwards with editing software. There are apps available to simplify and take a lot of the guesswork out of long-exposure photography.
It’s always good to practice ahead of time. A good way to do that at night is with passing cars or airplanes. Both have lights which will create the “trailing effect” associated with long-exposure times. Pick a spot without a lot of lights and experiment. For the purpose of practicing, it’s ok to use higher ISO values, as it boosts the light level, but fireworks are especially bright, and high ISO values will washout the colors of the explosions.
So you’ve figured out your camera’s settings, you’ve picked your spot and the show is starting. You may want to review the first few shots to make sure they look ok. It’s difficult to see fine details on a small display, so don’t spend too much time making adjustments. Since we’re using long-exposures, timing isn’t too critical. Just start shooting, and take lots of photos. Not all will be great, but if you take a lot of photos you’re sure to get some good ones. Have fun picking out the best shots to share with the world.
Jeremy Dunn, Select Group Videographer