Photographing Fireworks

The Fourth of July is right around the corner.  Here in the United States, many folks will celebrate Independence Day, the day we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, declaring independence from Great Britain, by getting drunk and blowing things up.  So this is the time of year I get lots of questions about photographing fireworks.

Nikon D300S, 17-55mm f/2.8 Nikkor, ISO 200, F/16, 8 seconds

When shooting fireworks you are going to be using long exposures, so you’ll need a tripod and if possible, a wired or wireless remote that will allow you to trip the shutter without touching the camera itself. When finding a shooting spot, it can often be helpful to find a spot that allows for the inclusion of something interesting in the foreground.  A statue, a building, or people will work well.  Point you camera towards the area in the sky where you think the fireworks will burst.

I prefer to shoot RAW, but if you are a JPG kinda person, your white balance will be important, so start with a sunny white balance.  Your exposure will vary depending on the intensity of the fireworks display and the lighting on your foreground objects, so play around a little.  A good place to start is ISO 400, f/11, with a shutter speed between 8 and 16 seconds.  Setting the camera to manual exposure and manual focus usually makes the most sense.

Another way to play, is to set the camera to bulb.  You’ll need a lock-down remote shutter release, so that the shutter will stay open until you release the remote.  Have a card handy to block the lens, because you will be leaving the shutter open for an extended period of time, removing the card from the front of the lens during fireworks bursts.  The goal here is to capture multiple bursts on a single frame.

Since the spread of the fireworks bursts will be unpredictable, you’ll usually want to shoot a little bit wide and crop in post-processing.  It’s also a good idea to remove any filters you might be using.  Sometimes adding a filter can increase the chances to flare and reflection when photographing sources of light.

One last thing to consider is the use of Long Exposure Noise Reduction.  In some cameras, using a long exposure will cause the sensor to heat up, increasing noise in the image.  Long Exposure Noise Reduction works by creating a second, internal exposure, the same length as your actual exposure, to be used as a reference frame for removal of heat-induced noise.  What all this mumbo-jumbo means is that the camera is going to     be exposing the sensor for the same length of time as you original exposure and will be unavailable for shooting a photograph during that time period.

Have fun and be safe.

Michael A. Schwarz Photography
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