Here’s the deal, I don’t have a fancy DSLR camera. If you don’t know what that is, you’re in the same boat as me. That means, I’m not confident about taking great fireworks snapshots. I typically just record the fireworks and enjoy the memories that way. However, I would really like to take some great fireworks still shots this year so I pulled up the reliable, internet search bar, and started some research.
If you have a fancy DSLR, but maybe don’t quite understand all the different settings and apertures, and so on and so on, stay tuned, because I’ve included some research for you as well (and hoping that some day I will have one, I’ll already know how to use it).
I also found some great tips for taking better fireworks photos with your smart phone.
Are you ready? I am, let’s dig in.
Tip #1: Scout Out the Location Early.
If you’ve been to that location before, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where the fireworks will open in the sky. Use this to your advantage. If it’s a new locale for you, try asking around beforehand. You want everything in place before the fireworks start so you don’t miss any of the show and you don’t want to fumble around in the dark. There’s a couple of factors to keep in mind when you scout the location.
- Check for wind, and face away from the wind. You don’t want the smoke from the fireworks to blur the pictures.
- Check for sight line. You want to take pictures from a forward position rather than an overhead position. Get up as high as you comfortably can, while remaining steady. Pay attention to trees, buildings, etc. that may block your view.
- You don’t want to have a bunch of half-bodies in the bottom of the frame, and you don’t want to bother everyone around you either, so make sure you are out of their way and they are out of your lens.
- If your camera faces east you will have a darker sky and therefore brighter flashes of light.
Tip #2: Set up Early.
Double check all your equipment while you are setting up to make sure you have everything you will need. This equipment includes:
- Tripod (essential), or at least something that can stabilize you and the camera. There are even smartphone tripods available, or an attachment to a regular one.
- A fully charged battery.
- Empty SD CardS (so you can take as many shots as you want, maybe even some video)
- Any extra lenses you may want to use.
- A small flashlight to help you see if you need to make equipment changes.
Once everything is set, take a couple of practice shots. Check out the different features on your camera or smart-phone to determine what settings are available. Some digital cameras include a fireworks setting. I read that some smartphones also have a fireworks setting. Use this setting for a few shots to see how they turn out, then switch to manual settings for some other shots.
Tip #3: Check Frame and Reference Points.
This ties back to scouting the location, but once you’re set, look through the viewfinder to make sure the trees aren’t in the way, or at least providing a good frame of reference. If it’s not too much of a hassle, test out a few different vantage points, from the ground, or higher to get some different perspectives. Set the camera to capture a vertical frame to allow the full light trail. Horizontal provides unnecessary images.
Tip #4: Use the Right Settings.
Most digital cameras will allow you to change the settings, consult your owner’s manual, if you can find it, or just browse through the different menus. Some smartphones also have different manual camera settings available. There are also some apps available that will allow you to have more manual control. The PC World article suggests Cortex Camera for iPhone users, and Night Camera Android app. Fast Burst Camera for Android is another option.
- ISO should be at 100 to avoid excess light noise.
- Aperture should be low, try f5.6 or f8
- Shutter speed must be as slow as possible. For this reason you need the tripod to make sure the only movement is from the light trails of the fireworks. If you have a bulb exposure, use that, you can keep the shutter open as long as you are holding the button.
- Use a remote shutter release if possible, or try using the self-timer to avoid excess movement of the camera.
- Turn off the flash, the light of the fireworks is bright enough, and the flash will focus on the area immediately in front of the lens instead of the fireworks.
- Focus before the initial burst and then turn off the auto focus to avoid missing the right burst or getting blurry images from a late focus.
- If possible, use a fast burst option that will allow you to take several shots one after another so you can determine the best later.
- Use a wide focal length and crop later. Digital zoom is just cropping, not an actual zoom.
Tip #5: Enjoy the Show, Take Lots of Pictures, and Delete Later if Necessary.
You don’t want to be so frantic about taking good pictures that you miss the whole show! Take pictures of the first few fireworks to avoid excess haze in later pictures from all the smoke. Check a few of those early pictures to make sure you have some good ones. Keep everything set up and take a few more throughout the show, but enjoy what is happening around you.
I feel more confident that I will be able to take great pictures today. How about you? What tip was most helpful for you?