Monday, July 2, 2012

Fireworks Images you'll want to share!

Kalamazoo, MI. Top level parking structure. Multi exposure.

The Fourth of July is fast approaching and along with the original reason for celebrating this day (declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain) we also have parades, barbeques, picnics, concerts, and people getting insanely drunk enjoying a cocktail or two.  But one of the most anticipated parts of the days festivities are the fireworks.

Seeing the hundreds of fireworks images posted online in the days following the holiday is pretty interesting.  With a variety of fireworks images that could be on magazine covers to images that look like second grade finger paintings...I thought I'd give everyone a primer on just how to get those "cover shots" that will make your friends ask you to next years party...maybe :)

So let's list the major concerns first and then elaborate.
  1. What you need.
  2. Where to sit/stand.
  3. Camera settings.

So what do you need?  Well, you'll need a camera for sure.  A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) or an SLR camera will give you the most control over the scene but point and shoot digital cameras will work as well.  Most small point and shoots have a mode built right into the camera that states it as a "fireworks" mode.  (Check your manual if unsure)

If you are using a DSLR or SLR, any lens will do depending on how you want your final image to look.  If using a smaller digital point and shoot or compact digital, try using different focal lengths and experiment.  Zooming in gets a nice big display that fills the frame but a wide angle shows the sheer size of some of these blasts in comparison to your surroundings.

Finally, for me, a tripod is a must.  If you don't have one, borrow one.  If you can't borrow one, find a way to prop your camera to point where the fireworks will be and just be sure that it's not going to move or be obstructed by anything while you shoot.  The camera will be making longer than normal exposures and when the camera shakes, even a bit, those pretty colored streams of light look like saw blades...unless that's your artistic intent :)

Hand held on the boat.


Find a spot that has an unobstructed view of the show.  No trees in front of you is good and being elevated is even better.  Scout some locations if you have time, but if you don't, get there early, pick your spot and stay there!  This might mean getting there a couple hours early if it's a spot that gets pretty packed every year.

Take a look at the weather too before heading out.  Check the wind direction as this could determine where it is you'll set up.  You don't want all the smoke blowing right back at you and it makes for not so crisp images later on in the show.  If you're in an area with a land mark try to incorporate that.  Like a local pro baseball stadium, a monument of some sort or the city skyline...truly impressive photos come from these strategies.


Cameras that allow you to have complete control will let you choose an aperture setting.  A setting of f/8, f/11, or f/16 will yield bright vivid colors if you're close to the action.  Shutter speeds will vary depending on your liking.  Being able to set this from 1 second to 4 seconds will get the trials of the sparks as the explosion opens up and drifts down.  If your camera has a "B" (bulb) mode, you'll be able to "hold" the shutter open until you release your finger from the shutter button.  Using a shutter release cable is preferred if going this route.  One way to get around holding the shutter open with your finger, thus creating camera shake, is to set the shutter speed to a longer exposure, say 10 seconds.  After you hear the thump when the firework makes it's lift off, hit the shutter.  After the firework explodes, hold a piece of black paper over the lens until the exposure ends.  It's crude but it works,  you could also set the shutter to 30 seconds and hold the piece of paper up to the lens between blasts to get multiple exposures as in the image at the top of the post, from one exposure...experiment and try different things.  You never now what you'll get.

Finally, if you do have some editing software like Photoshop, and you have a final image in mind, then there is no reason you can't create something that is definitely interesting as in the image below.

I shot this image of my wife with a flash off camera to get a good exposure of her and the sunset in the background.  Then moved a second image of a firework explosion over to appear as if the person lit it off of the boat.  It's one of my favorites.  Experiment, have fun, and be safe.  Below are some other links to helpful sites on capturing images of fireworks.

Composite Fireworks Image

Photographing Fireworks tips from National Geographic
How To Photograph Fireworks from Digital Photography School
Photographing Fireworks from Photography Tutorials & Tips


1 comment:

  1. i never see just like a's really wonderful fireworks .