As the 4of July approaches we are all getting excited for firework displays be them the large one like Fair St. Louis or our local neighborhood get-together. A lot of people like to photograph these wonderful events but end up frustrated with the results. Here are some tips and ideas to improve your photography.
First let’s talk about equipment. Most cell phones will do fine for video. They will not do as well for still photography. A DSLR or new mirrorless camera will give you the control you need to get the best images. I will go into that in a second but let me mention a few other pieces of equipment that will help.
A good, sturdy tripod is very important. You will want to set your camera for a long exposure, up to a few seconds. A tripod will help guarantee that the foreground (like the Arch) will be sharp and in focus. A shutter release cable will also help. Some modern cameras will allow you to use your cell phone as a shutter release with the app for your camera. One last easy thing is a black card. More on that later.
The next important thing is to find a good location to shoot from. If you are just capturing for fun, this is less important, but you should still think about it, so you are not blocking others from viewing and you have a clear view of the fireworks. If you want to create an image to put up on the wall, this is a very important step to get your framing and composition to look good. Even going out the day before helps ensure the best possible outcome. Think about what will be in the background and foreground. Getting a high location above the crowd may also help.
Now it’s time for camera setting.The issue we see with fireworks most often is over exposure. People think it’s dark out and they need a high ISO and such. But fireworks are very bright. You can not rely upon your camera’s auto setting. Here are some starting settings, but keep in mind, it will change depending on a few factors like foreground lighting. Be ready to take a few test shots. As the show is getting ready to start, get an exposure for the foreground. Then when the display starts, you can balance the exposure by adjusting your shutter speed.
Set your camera to Manual Mode
Shutter speed depending on foreground, often a few seconds (2-10 seconds)
Turn off vibration control/image stabilization
Turn off long exposure noise reduction
Don’t use live view (you will go through your battery fast)
Focus while there is light and then turn off your Auto Focus (AF)
Shooting and timing your shots takes a little practice. You will learn to watch and listen to the thumb as anew shell is shot off. Then you will have to gauge when the firework will explode in the sky. This takes time to get it right and you will have to just keep trying and reviewing your photos. Sometimes you want to expose after the firework first goes off. You may also want to get a few bursts in one shot.This is when you will change your exposure time. Back in the film days they used to set the camera to bulb and cover the lens with the above-mentioned dark card(often a piece of cardboard with black felt glued to it to absorb any light) You would cover and uncover the lens to allow multiple bursts. You can still do this,or I know some people who will do that in photoshop. Make sure you have a wide enough lens as some fireworks can go high or get really big.
Now that you have the hang of things, have some fun. Try using a telephoto lens to get tight or hand holding your camera. Two of my favorite things to do is zoom in during an exposure or focus-defocus during an exposure. These can make for some interesting abstract photos.
The best tip is to enjoy yourself and the company you are with. Don’t focus too much on making the perfect photo but have a great time then share your images with family and friends.
For more information, join us June29 from 6:30-7:30pm for an online class and on July 3we are holding a photo walk at the Alton IL fireworks display. Follow the linksfor more information.