© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Some Tips & Techniques to Help You Improve Your Fireworks Photography


Happy 4th of July everyone.

Fireworks are fun and easy to photograph. The most important thing to remember is that timing and patience are your best friend.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to get you started in capturing some wonderful photographs.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Fireworks explode over Aspen Mountain as seen from Mollie Gibson Park in Aspen, Colo.

Before the Shoot:

First: Pick a good spot.

If you can, go out the day before and figure out where they will be launching from and the general direction where they will be exploding. Use that knowledge to find a unique angle to shoot from.

Make sure there are no trees in the way, power lines across your view, street lamps, or any other distraction. You may even find a flag pole with a lighted U.S. flag to add into your photograph.

Look for things to incorporate into the photo to add an extra dimension to your photograph. Things such as a lighted flag pole, or church crosses, or even a familiar landmark. This will keep your photo from being the old boring “this could’ve been shot anywhere” firework photograph.

By going the day before, you can avoid any crowds. You’ll have better access to a lot of places which will allow you to pick a better spot.

Second: Arrive Early.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to shoot from, arrive early so you can secure that spot. Nothing worse than spending time finding a cool spot only to have it taken before you get there.

Third: Be flexible.

You may pick the prime spot to shoot from, but you must be flexible. The organizers may have put up a banner, cordoned off the area, or someone may have gotten there before you.

Keep in mind, you will not be the only one shooting, so be courteous of others. By arriving early, you have a greater chance of securing a really good spot.

If you decide you want  a building or landmark in your photograph. Take a few test shots after you set up your tripod where you want it to find the proper exposure for the building/landmark. Use the aperture you want to use for you fireworks and figure out what shutter speed you will need.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Fireworks explode over Aspen Mountain in celebration of the Woman's World Cup ski races. I wanted to add some depth, so I scouted this location to get some of the town of Aspen and people. By using the tungsten setting, the lights on the buildings and people look more natural.

Add a bit of depth to your images by including people. Find a good angle that allows you to shoot both people and the fireworks. Personally, I think photographs of fireworks by themselves are boring. People, landmarks, and a different angle add to the image.

If you decide to use flash, remember that your Aperture controls your flash output. Also, remember that you’ll end up shooting in “tungsten mode” (see below) and this will help balance the color of your flash with your shooting. You will have to dial down your strobe to compensate for all the black in the photo.

Don’t be afraid to experiment photographing people during the fireworks. With a little experimentation, you can get some fabulous photos of a son on his dad’s shoulders, a hand waving the American flag, or anything else the adds to the depth of the photo.

Equipment & Settings:

Use full manual. Take control of your camera. Auto settings get fooled by the dark and when you push the shutter button, the camera may think you need 30 sec. at f/2.8.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Fireworks blast the ashes of the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson into the sky above from a 150 cannon in the shape of his famous double thumbed-fist above his Woody Creek, Colo., home at Owl Farm. Knowing the basics of how to shoot fireworks helped me capture this image. The fireworks lasted less than 30 seconds.

Camera:

  1. Shutter: Set it to bulb. Use a cable release as your camera will be mounted on a tripod. This give you the option of when to open AND close the shutter.
  2. Aperture: Use between f/8 and f/11 to keep your highlights from blowing out and will keep the spark trails thin without a ghost effect.
  3. White Balance: Use tungsten. Due to the actual color temperature of fireworks, shooting using the tungsten setting will give you better and more accurate color. It is also closer to what some of the ambient light in buildings will be so those colors will be more correct.
  4. ISO: The lowest feasible ISO your camera has. Do not use the Lo-1, Lo-2, etc., setting. These clip the highlights. By using low ISO, you’ll see almost no grain (noise) due to the relatively long exposures and be able to make better enlargements.
  5. File Type: Use RAW. This will allow you to make minor color adjustments, exposure adjustments, and still keep the original file. I prefer RAW + Jpeg during all my shooting for its flexibility.
  6. Focus: Set your lens on manual. More later.

Lens:

The lens choice is up to you. Don’t go too wide or the fireworks will be small in the frame. If you go too tight, you may end up missing the show. Be ready to switch lenses quickly. With modern cameras, everything is set in the camera so you should be able to switch without having to change any settings.

Focus:

Do not use auto-focus. Your lens will try to focus on the dark sky and just hunt for a sharp spot. Rather, find a distant street light, focus on that, then tape down, with a small piece, the focus ring. The tape prevents it from going out of focus if accidentally hit.

Other Necessary gear:
Good sturdy tripod.
This is a must-have tool for anyone desiring to be a full time professional photographer. You need one for a multitude of reasons. You must keep your camera steady to keep your image sharp. Especially if you include stationary subjects such as buildings.

Cable Release:
As your camera is set your camera on bulb so you can open and close the shutter when you want. It will also help reduce camera shake.  (if you have one). Set your camera on manual mode and use the bulb setting. That is the setting where you start and stop the shutter. This is important as you want to open the shutter when the fireworks launch, then close the shutter after they have exploded and passed their high point.

You can get your camera maker’s version or an off shoot brand. If not, then press the button and hold. But be very still when doing so or you’ll introduce camera shake.

Extra Batteries:

You will be surprised at the number of photographers who forget to charge all of their batteries. Using long shutter speeds expends a lot of battery power and just when the grand finale begins, your batteries are dead.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

I went out earlier in the day to find a different angle. A lot of people I know were going to the Seattle Center to shoot the fireworks. I wanted something unique and remembered the crosses at St. Spiridon Orthodox Church.

Extra Tips:
Be careful of any street lights or other light sources. This is another good reason to check your angle before setting up your tripod. Take a few test shots before hand and check the image to see if you have any distractions.

Watch, don’t listen, to the fireworks. Begin your exposure as the fireworks begin their ascent (you’ll see them as they leave a trail of sparks), watch as they explode, then begin to fade. Don’t wait to hear the boom. Unless you’re directly under the fireworks, you’ll miss the shot.

After a few times, you should know the approximate height and direction they are exploding at.

Most Importantly: Have fun! Even if you don’t get something fantastic, at least you have the memories.

Thank you for stopping by and reading. All comments are appreciated.

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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2 comments

  1. Love the shot with the crosses, Pablo. Our local fireworks shows were cancelled due to the dangerous drought conditions we are experiencing.

    Like

    1. Thanks Bronson. That shot is my fave too.

      Hunter’s memorial is one of those rare events you must know how to shoot fireworks in order to capture. It lasted less than 30 seconds.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

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