The 5th of November is here again and as ever it marks Guy Fawkes ill-fated attempt to blow up parliament. These days there’s no need for gunpowder as ministers seem perfectly equipped to implode government from the inside, and all without too much help from any external forces.
This year we’ll celebrate with the usual vigour, fireworks, bonfire and glass of wine whilst Pip the dog, cowers under the bed listening to radio 4 at full blast.
There really is no doubt that fireworks are spectacular and the many displays across the country will wow excited crowds.
Like any spectacular visual event, fireworks make fantastic photographic subjects, with their bright light and vivid colours. Whilst they’re easy enough to watch, capturing a decent image can be tricky, so we’ve broken it down into simple steps that should enaure you’re able to capture this year’s stunning display.
How to photograph fireworks
Shooting fireworks requires a long exposure, opening up the shutter for long enough to flood the sensor with light and expose the perfect shot.
Don’t worry about the bright lights that surround you at most fireworks events, once those rockets start to explode they’ll counter the light on the ground.
Also remember that whilst those fireworks may look bright, the human eye can adjust to low light levels, so they’ll look brighter to you than they will on the image sensor.
It’s worth noting that if you want to capture the tail and fallout of a firework explosion then you’re going to need an exposure time of between 2 and 30 seconds.
Before you start, it’s worth checking that your camera or phone has the ability to shoot in either manual or bulb mode. Bulb mode enables you to hold the shutter open for an indefinite period of time.
The kit you’ll need to photograph fireworks
Today’s technology means that the latest cameras and phones are packed with features that enable you to shoot subjects such as fireworks without some of the kit that would have been required in the past.
However, let’s look at the essentials that will make the process of capturing fireworks that much easier.
DLSR and Mirrorless kit for capturing fireworks
What type of camera do I need to photograph fireworks?
A DSLR, Mirrorless camera or mobile phone are all perfectly good for photographing fireworks as long as they have the correct exposure modes.
If your camera shoots in Manual mode then it’s perfect, you may even find that it has a fireworks mode that will handle all of the more intricate settings such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed for you.
In order to shoot fireworks on an iPhone you’ll need to download an app that enables you to take manual control over the exposure. An app such as Camera+ is perfect as it gives you the control you need and will only set you back around £3 / $3
What type of camera support will I need to photograph fireworks?
Although the latest cameras feature incredible image stabilisation a decent tripod is still recommended especially with longer exposures.
The flash of light from a firework might only be fleeting, but even the slightest movement will cause blur in your image. Obviously, if you’re in a crowd then you don’t want a large cumbersome tripod so check out a travel tripod such as the MeFoto or a larger lightweight tripod like the 3 Legged Thing Punks Billy.
What lens will I need to photograph fireworks?
Even with a mobile you can add an Olloclip lens to make the camera bit more versatile. The active set is a great choice with a 2x telephoto and ultra wide.
If you’re shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera then you’ll want to get hold of a zoom lens. A 17-35mm is a good choice on an APS-C format model or 24-70mm on full-frame, if you want something that allows you to go in a bit tighter then a 70-200mm or 70-300mm telephoto zoom is a good choice.
When it comes to lenses, it’s best to think about the type of shots you want to get beforehand, as you won’t have much time to change lenses during the fast-paced display of fireworks.
Other useful items include a torch/flashlight for painting in any elements in the foreground, and a timer to record your exposures precisely. There are plenty of free stopwatch apps for iOS and Android that will do this.
Setting up your camera to photograph fireworks
What image file format should I use to photograph fireworks, jpeg or raw?
Let’s start with the file format you want to select in order to capture your fireworks. As you’re shooting in low light, your camera has to work that much harder to capture the image, so anything that helps to get the image clear and crisp has to be good.
Shooting in raw format enables the camera to capture the scene with maximum information and you also have control over the amount of noise reduction that’s applied. If your camera or mobile has the ability to shoot raw format, make sure this is selected.
If not, don’t worry too much and shoot jpegs. If you love the experience of shooting fireworks then maybe consider stepping up to a dedicated DSLR or Mirrorless camera that gives you that extra control.
How do I compose images of fireworks?
A tripod is essential to give your camera a firm base and keep it stock-still. However, the problem with shooting fireworks is that it can be hard to predict where they will appear in the sky.
When you set-up and position your tripod, make sure you leave a little slack so that you can quickly pan and tilt the camera to capture the display.
Fireworks generally shoot overhead and arc down. After you’ve watched the first few, you should get a feeling for the projection of the display and where to position the camera.
Shooting in portrait rather than landscape orientation will enable you to capture the full life of the fireworks explosion.
What exposure settings should I use to capture fireworks?
In order to ensure the best exposure possible, you’re going to have to use a slow shutter speed.
To keep noise levels down its best to use as low a sensitivity (ISO) value as possible.
To help extend the shutter speed further, set a small aperture, something between f/11 and f/22. Remember the higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture and the greater the depth of field.
How to photograph fireworks
- Set the camera’s exposure mode to manual.
- Set the aperture to f/11.
- Set the ISO to 100.
- Set the shutter speed to 6 seconds (you’ll need to adjust this later).
- Position the camera on a tripod in portrait orientation.
- Switch to AF and wait for the first burst of fireworks.
- As the first explosion happens half-press the shutter to focus.
- Switch the lens to manual focus.
- Take a shot and check exposure and focus on the LCD and tweak if necessary.
- Now you’ve you’re all set to capture fireworks.
Firework Photography Troubleshooting
Fireworks not in focus
If the fireworks are out of focus then switch the focus back to AF and try again.
If you try several times without success, make sure that the central focus point is selected.
If all else fails, use manual focus and set the focus distance to infinity
Correct firework exposure
If the fireworks look too dark, increase the exposure time (decrease the shutter speed), if it’s too light shorten the shutter speed.
If the shutter speed dips below 3 seconds, then decrease the size of the aperture from f/11 to f/16 to increase exposure times as this will allow you to capture more of the burst.
Let us know how you get on and send in your images to firstname.lastname@example.org