The new year is around and I thought its the best time for sharing some pointers to photogs planning to shoot fireworks this New Years Eve. If you have access to a venue which will organize fireworks, you can make use of the opportunity and return home with amazing pictures. Singapore, Dubai, Sydney, Hongkong etc organize special firework display for the general public at midnight.
Firework photography requires a bit of planning. So it’s best to simulate camera setting before actual events happen.
Tripod is one of the essential equipment. Since we are going to shoot long exposure shots, keeping the camera sturdy is important. Heavier the tripod the better, since any vibrations/shake can introduce blur in our images. Try to keep tripod away from people if the venue is crowded as people tend to shake the tripod when they move around in excitement.
All you need is a camera which has manual exposure/aperture control. Most DSLRs in today’s market have full manual control. Even some P&S and Mega Zoom cameras have fireworks photography or long exposure modes. These can also be used to click fireworks.
A Wide Angle lens is definitely a better bet to click fireworks. Wider angle helps us in including fireworks and other subjects in frame easily. I normally use 14mm to 24mm range for shooting fireworks.
A wired/wireless remote is another must have accessory for firework photography. Pressing the camera shutter button can introduce some shake/blur. This can be certainly eliminated by using a remote. Remotes also come with a feature to keep the shutter OPEN for desired period of time. Wired remotes are quite cheap and can be bought from eBay at 8-12 $. I got a fairly decent one at 12$ here in Singapore. Let’s see for long it lasts. I would suggest using a wired remote instead of a wireless remote. Last time I went to shoot fireworks on National Day (Singapore) many photographers using wireless remote were triggering each other’s cameras as all were standing jam packed in a small space. An alternative to this can be to use a 2 Sec timer with fixed exposure, but this may result in loss of time. Firework show generally last for not more than 10 mins, so time is precious. Further, our exposure is also for fixed duration which may not give us enough control over exposure timing.
We are not sure about the time firework will take to go up and blast (take up the umbrella type shape) It’s best to set the camera in BULB mode. Most of the DSLR have this options. In Nikon, if we go past 30″ exposure in Manual mode, we get the BULB mode. Normally the exposure duration may range between 3 sec to 15 sec to include sufficient fireworks. We may try longer exposure as well to include number of fireworks, just make sure it doesn’t make our image over exposed.
Fireworks are very brightly lit as compared to surroundings, so we want to restrict the amount of light reaching camera sensor. And fireworks are also happening far from us, we need to have a greater depth of field. I would suggest to start with f/8 to f/11 and review first images. If they are over/under exposed try to go higher or lower as required. In recent firework show, I saw I got good shots at f/13 to f/18 so we may need to try multiple settings to get the most optimum image.
This is important. As we will be photographing in the night, we might be tempted to try higher ISO. Remember Fireworks are brightly lit as compared to other objects. So I would suggest to keep it pretty low. Low-end DSLRs are pretty good in introducing noise at higher ISO. So I would suggest to keep it between 100 – 1600. With higher end DSLRs, ISO as high as 3200 would be okay to use.
It’s better to keep this feature OFF as we are using a tripod. This feature is very useful mainly when taking photos handheld where shake is unavoidable.
The camera sensor is bound to heat up due to long exposures and hence higher noise in images. Keeping NR feature ON will increase the time taking by the camera to process the image. For every exposure, the camera will take a black exposure (of the same duration) and subtract noise from the image. Fireworks last for only a few minutes, I will rather keep NR OFF and have more time shooting the fireworks instead of waiting.
Most DSLRs find it difficult to get correct automatic focus at night. It is suggested to use the camera in manual focus mode. Try to fix the camera lens focus at infinity and change the AF mode to “manual focus” (so the camera doesn’t play with focus anymore). To fix the focus to infinity we can simply focus manually at any distant object or light source.
If your camera has an LCD screen, turn it ON. Zoom in the image on LCD to maximum possible. Put camera in Manual focus and focus on any distant light (more than 20 meters away), Now just stick a small masking tape on the focus ring so that you don’t move it by mistake, or mark a small line with permanent marker so that you can use the infinity focus whenever you want in future as well.
The location is everything in fireworks photography. A good location can convert a flat picture to an eye popping firework image. Try to reach the spot early so that you can get the unobstructed view of fireworks. Best of the spots are taken early by photogs and families. And if we haven’t got the front row, trust me people standing right in front of view will definitely obstruct our frame and may even shake our tripod.
Last year, I reached my planned spot at 8:30 PM for photographing fireworks at new year midnight. I was not able to pitch my tripod at first row as it was all occupied and hence had to settle for the second row. I had to pay the price by zooming in due to people popping up in my frame and not being able to compose the shots as I wanted.
I would also suggest standing in such a location that wind is blowing in opposite direction. After a few fireworks go off, smoke will fill the sky and will certainly show up in our photographs. So if the wind is blowing in opposite direction smoke will get cleared early and we may have better views. Though we have very little control over this.
This point is too subjective. Shoot what best looks to you. Learn from looking at other pro photographers image. Generally, including monuments, cityscapes, skylines, people, water bodies, reflections add character to the image. Also, make sure to include sufficient number of fireworks burst in the image to manage firework density. Too few fireworks may not give the look and feel of the actual show. If getting longer exposure is not possible you may try to stack few images to get desired density of fireworks.
If you want to know best places to watch and shoot fireworks in Singapore, check this post(link opens in new tab)