Monday, July 16, 2007

How to photograph fireworks

Mark gave me a call on Saturday night with a proposition. How would I like to go to Mazeppa and photo graph some fireworks. Well, the wife said, go...all we had plans to do was put the kids to bed.

My last efort at photographing fireworks proved unsuccessful. It was fun, but we were too far away for me to get any quality exposures. This time, though, we were going without kids, wives or any of the other family diversions that can interupt the photo time. Two guys, two camera and a lot of hope.

Neither of us have ever been to this little event before, so we weren't really sure where to go. We found it, it was in a valley at the local ball field. We found a gap between 2 parked cars and hoped that this spot would work, or we could move quick enough to set up in a better spot. As it turns out, this spot worked out just fine. Note to selves: be sure to move a little further down, there was an annoying lit sign to our got caught in a few frames).

These first two picture were my two favorites and some of the first pictures I captured.

I shot all of these in manual mode. This was shot at 1.6 second exposure with a f 5.6 apature. According to the metadata, I had the lens set to 30mm and the ISO set to 500.

The colors in this first one are really beautiful and I seemed to have captured 3 different fireworks at different states. The image you see has for the most part been unedited. The only processing done was to convert it from raw to JPEG.

This next picture was taken at the same exposure as the previous one. Same basic effect, but there seems to be more movement in the white explosion. I'll be making a note of these settings because they really worked well.

One of the key points we learned about photographing fireworks is that time is very importan. When a shell first expodes, it is very bright and can overwhelm the exposure. Open the shutter just after the BANG!
In this next frame you start to see the smoke that lingers around the explosions. This was shot at the same settings as the other 2. The trails are cool, I kinda wish this was a vertical, and it might be when I edit it.

The smoke tends to build up over time. It's difficult to see it when you are there, but in these frames, its very apparent.
This last picture was taken with an ISO setting of 400 at 1/4 of a second and a f/4.50. I opened it up on the zoom to 17.00 mm.

I'm not sure how much different this made things, but there was definitely a build of smoke at this time. It was quite noticable. So everything was getting a haze to it. I was trying to compensate for this by changing the setting and exposing for less time, but notthing really seemed to help.

We are hoping, that next year, there is a breeze that clears it out. The air was very calm this night.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. Next year, I think we will both pack better, and probably move a bit to the west. I may even try shooting without the UV filter next year, but there were a lot of people milling about and on the other side of the truck we were shooting behind, some guys were sending of bottle rockets between beers.

My key points to remember.

  • Get to know your camera's settings. Be able to change the exposure time quickly to adjust as needed.
  • Set your apature wide open
  • Set the lens to manual focus. Infinity should be just fine, unless you plan on being close enough to feel the heat
  • With my Image Stabilizing lens, I didn't seem much human jitter in the pictures, but a cable release would be really useful.
  • Mark had trouble with his cable release, get to know it BEFORE the show starts. We think he was trying to control to much with. Next time he'll probably only use it as a trigger.
  • Have a small flashlight with you
  • Bring a cooler for beverages. We got a little parched sitting there.
  • Pack light. Tripod, cable release, flashlight, extra charged battery and lots of memory. You don't have time for too much swapping. So make good choices first.
  • Know the area where the show is taking place. We got lucky. Our spot want all that bad, but we'll readily admit, we had no idea and were just guessing.
  • Using my Canon 30D, 1.6 seconds, open apature, ISO 500 at 30mm worked great.
  • Don't shoot the explosion, wait til just after the initial BANG.

Don't be afraid, give it a try and don't be afraid to experiment.

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