Fourth of July weekend is upon us, and that means celebrating our nation's independence in all sorts of ways: cookouts, parades, and, of course, fireworks.
Have you ever seen photos of fireworks and thought, "that is SO cool, but it looks so hard.."? Yeah, me too. But now, as a RI children's photographer, they're one of my favorite things to photograph in July (when I'm not photographing kids and families!) and they're SO easy to photograph.
So what do you need to photograph fireworks?
- A DSLR
- A tripod
- A remote, either wireless or wired
- The lens of your choice. I usually use my 24-70, as I am not sure how close I'll be able to get and like the ability to zoom in and out. A kit lens such as an 18-55 or 18-135 would work well, you could also use a 50mm if you aren't super close to the fireworks.
To take your photos, do the following:
- Put your camera on a tripod, and set up your composition (minus the fireworks of course!) ahead of time. If you can, try to position yourself somewhere that has an interesting foreground as well, such as the ocean foreground I have, a riverfront, city, etc. If your lens has stabilization of any kind (IS/VR/OS/VC; what it's called will depend on the brand of lens), make sure it's turned OFF.
- Set your camera to bulb mode. NOTE: not all cameras have bulb mode on the dial, but you can still access the capability. For example, on most Nikons, you need to be in M mode and change the shutter speed to "bulb". On Canon Rebels, you need to put the camera in manual mode, put the camera in self timer mode, and use your remote to keep the shutter locked open. Check your manual to see what method you need to use for your particular camera.
- Set your ISO to 100 and your aperture to a narrow aperture somewhere in the f8-f11 range (I usually have the best luck with f9-f10, but you can adjust your settings based on the shots you're getting).
- Turn your lens onto manual focus. Set the lens' focus to infinity. NOTE: If your lens does not have a distance scale on it, so you are not able to see if you're focused to infinity, focus on something very far away from where you're standing. If you need to, zoom in on the LCD to assist your focusing.
- Make sure the "blinkies" or highlight alert is turned on on your camera's LCD.
- You can either preset your white balance or leave it on auto, especially if you're shooting RAW. I have the best luck using about 5000 kelvin. If your camera doesn't have the ability to choose your own kelvin, use the daylight or flash white balance preset.
- You will not be setting a shutter speed; you'll be opening and closing the shutter manually each time with your remote. When you first hear a firework be set off, or see it launching in the air, hit the button on your remote once; this opens your shutter. Keep your shutter open until the firework has finished, then hit the remote button again to close your shutter. Most exposures will end up being about 8-15 seconds long.
- Look at your LCD to make sure you're not overexposing anything (are there any "blinkies" flashing?) and also take a look at your histogram to make sure your photo is not too dark or too bright. If your photo is too dark, make your aperture a little wider (smaller number) or raise your ISO a bit. If your photos are too bright, make your aperture narrower (larger number) to let in less light.
When you get home, look at all your awesome fireworks photos and say, "hey, I did that!" One other important note: sometimes skies can get fairly smoky later on in the display, especially if it's cloudy out. So make sure you're taking shots from the beginning of the show so you get photos without smoke in them.