UltraWideLife

Tutorial : How to Shoot Fireworks

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 general public at midnight.

Firework photography require a bit of planning. So its best to simulate camera setting before actual events happen.

The Red country , Singapore

Equipment

Tripod

Tripod is one of the most 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 venue is crowded as people tend to shake the tripod when they move around in excitement.

Camera

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.

Lens

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.

Remote

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 comes with 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. Lets see for long it lasts. I would suggest to use 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 others cameras as all were standing jam packed in a small space. An alternative to this can be 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. National Day preview - fireworks

Camera Setting

Exposure

We are not sure about the time firework will take to go up and blast (take up the umbrella type shape) Its 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 more number of fireworks, just make sure it doesn’t make our image over exposed.

Aperture

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.

ISO

This is important. As we will be photographing in 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.

Vibration Reduction

Its 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.

Noise Reduction

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, camera will take a black exposure (of same duration) and subtract noise from image. Fireworks lasts for only few minutes, I will rather keep NR OFF and have more time shooting the fireworks instead of waiting.

Focus

Most DSLRs find it difficult to get correct automatic focus at night. It is suggested to use camera in manual focus mode. Try to fix the camera lens focus at infinity and change the AF mode to “manual focus” (so camera doesn’t play with focus any more). To fix the focus to infinity we can simply focus manually at any distant object or light source.

If your camera has a LCD screen, turn it ON. Zoom in 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.

UWL-DSC_8730-2

Location

Location is everything in fireworks photography. A good location can covert a flat picture to a 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 8:30PM 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 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 to stand 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 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.

National Day Fireworks, Singapore

Composition

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 included sufficient number of fireworks burst in image to manage firework density. Too few fireworks may not give the look and feel of actual show. If getting longer exposure is not possible you may try to stack few images to get desired density of fireworks. Fireworks across the city

 

If you want to know best places to watch and shoot fireworks in Singapore, check this post(link opens in new tab)

9 thoughts on “Tutorial : How to Shoot Fireworks

  1. Amanda

    Wow… tips coming from the expert himself(: …awesome, lovely fireworks shot and it is indeed nice you put up a tutorial over here… I can see that there is a concept in photography which needs to be understood to operate manually… I tried taking photos at night long back for a function, and it was bad with those red eyes and noise. So it will be good to read these things and practice a bit. I already know one thing, any traveller becomes a photographer and that photographer gives memories… you turn the album on to years ago and bingo and memories you forgot and can recap(: … well this is well explained in simple words as well, avoiding technical argon so a well writen friendly titorial(:…have fun this last month of 2015… may your blog get loads of readers who will read and comment on your experiences and get inspired to travel and capture some travel movements.

    1. UltraWideLife.com

      Thanks for kind words. I am no expert when it comes to photography. I am just learning like everyone else 🙂
      Photography has essentially two components. First is objective. One should know camera settings and technical details of what these settings means. Second is subjective, like compositions and some photography rules. Getting hold of first one is easy and second one is never ending process.
      I have tried to cover both in this post as almost all tutorials on web cover only the first part.
      Thanks for your wishes.
      May you too have a great last month of 2015. And a very fulfilling New Year 2016 🙂

  2. Ticking the Bucketlist

    Totally awesome pictures! We went for the international firework festival at Macau…it was on my bucketlist. Superb display! However, we didnt have the tripod and obviously did not pay heed to the settings as much …else we would have had better pictures!
    Will keep your tips handy when we decide to go for the pyro=olympics!

    1. Ankur Post author

      Getting nice fireworks picture require a bit of planning as you would have already figured.
      I was planning to visit Pyro olympic earlier this year but could not manage. I saw International firework festival in Pattaya (Thailand) couple of weeks back. It was wonderful and a treat to watch.
      Which country fireworks do you plan to see in Manila (Pyro Olymic) next year? I have heard great things about Canada and UK presentations.

      1. Ticking the Bucketlist

        Well…. Not sure if we would be able to catch the event next year. On cards for next year is Zanzibar, Cambodia, Portugal and maybe Morocco.
        But I would switching jobs next month … So have no clue how much travel would be real!

        1. Ankur Post author

          Wow, you have a long list of places lined up. Hope you are able to tick them off next year 🙂
          Japan is my most proffered destination right now. Not sure when it happens.

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