Shooting Fireworks

It’s inevitable.  Every Fourth of July I see someone watching the big fireworks display pull out their point and shoot camera from their pocket or purse, aim it skyward and fire, hoping to capture the pyrotechnic  pageant.  More often than not, they are disappointed with the results.   I’m here to tell you how not to let that happen that to you should you decide that you simply must record the spectacle visually.

First off, turn off that flash!  Can’t tell you how many people don’t and what they end up with is a lovely view of the person’s head sitting in front of them.

Secondly, dial-up the ISO setting on your camera if it has that ability.  The higher the ISO the better chance you have at capturing the explosions as they appear rather than as big blurs that aren’t quite identifiable in the night sky.  A higher ISO will allow you to shoot the fireworks at higher F-stop and shutter speeds but know that the higher the ISO, the more “grain” you’ll get in the final image.

The fireworks display over the Hudson River in NYC was a brilliant spectacle of light. I had the perfect vantage point from my cousin’s apartment balcony!

Of course, results will also depend upon the type of camera you’re using.  Some new digital point and shoot cameras have incredible resolutions (not always related to the number of pixels it can capture) and will produce amazing results regardless.

If you’re using a single lens reflex, and you’re not a steady at hand-holding your camera with a telephoto lens, then use a tripod.  And a shutter release cable.   Years of shooting weddings requiring existing light exposures gave me the ability to get pretty good hand-held results when shooting at speeds as slow as 1/15th of a second (used to be able to do a passable job at 1/8th) but those images would never meet publication-quality standards without a tripod.

In fact, the two images I’ve posted here were made without the use of a tripod although I most likely braced my camera on a railing or something else solid that was handy.   One was made a couple of years ago of the display over Bellingham Bay while sitting at a nearby outdoor restaurant.  The other was made last year from my cousin’s apartment balcony of the incredible fireworks spectacle over the Hudson River in NYC.   It was just too good an opportunity to pass up even though I didn’t have a tripod with me.

Slower shutter speeds will yield the motion of the exploding fireworks as they drift downward.  That can be a pretty dramatic effect in the final image.  I personally like that look because it makes the fireworks look more like fireworks and not just some strange constellation.

My seat at the outdoor restaurant gave me a great view of my city’s annual fireworks extravaganza and provided good framing for a image of the giant bursts.

Also, frame your shot with something in the foreground if you can, but not with the back of someone’s head.  I say that, but if  a couple is sitting in front of you, for instance, you could back off your shot to include their full bodies with the fireworks appearing in the sky above them.  Might look good.

In my shots here, I used a lamppost and the point from where the fireworks were ignited in the Bellingham view and the NYC skyline (what could be more perfect?) for the other.    That will give your image some perspective and context and be much better than just simply dots of light against a black background.These are just  simple tips to help you get better results of this year’s big bang!  Let me know how it works out.

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