It’s that time of year again. Independence Day is almost here. All over the U.S. there will be amazing displays of fireworks. Photographer’s naturally want to make the best possible photos of these dazzling displays of burning light. Here’s how I shoot them.
There are a few absolutely needed things and some accessories that are nice to have. First, the gotta-have-this-stuff list
- DSLR or mirrorless camera that can be set on manual.
- Wide to Medium zoom or normal lens
- Study tripod
- 8 by 10 inch piece of black cardboard or foam core
Nice to have
- Locking cable release
- Cooler with appropriate beverages
The biggest challenge is finding a clear view of the sky. If you are in a crowd, back up and aim your camera higher. You can use a longer focal length to fill the frame with fireworks. Find a light as far from you as possible. Use the autofocus feature of your camera and lens to get it sharp. Put your lens on manual focus to keep the focus at infinity. Reframe your shot. Remember if you zoom, you have to refocus. If you are willing to possibly miss a burst you can use one to set the focus. Start with the lens on auto focus, focus then switch back to manual focus. This gets by the shutter press focus most cameras use.
Wide to Medium zoom lenses are great for shooting fireworks. The kit lens that comes with most DSLR or mirrorless kits are perfect too. For cropped sensor cameras, the 18mm to 55mm works well as does a 28mm normal lens. Full frame cameras will be fine with a 24mm to 70mm (or 105mm) or an 50mm normal focal length. The photograph that opens this post was with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 40mm.
Begin with the camera set on manual usually indicated by an M. Choose ISO 100. Set the aperture at f/8.0. Set the shutter to 30 seconds or if you have a locking cable release B (Bulb.) These, of course are starting places. You can check the camera’s screen and adjust accordingly. If the bursts appear too dark open the aperture or increase the ISO. This means go from f/8.0 to f/5.6 or from ISO 100 to ISO 200. If they appear too bright, indicated by flashing blinkies in some cameras, stop down by adjusting the aperture from f/8.0 to f/11.
The enemy of photographing fireworks is any movement other than the fiery glitter makers themselves. This is important, too, if there are foreground objects like a skyline.
The black card
Taking the photograph is simple. Hold the black card in front of the lens then release the shutter. Wait until the first firework starts up then remove the card. When the burst disappears, put the card in front of the lens again. When a new burst comes along, uncover the lens and let it finish. When the shutter closes, once again, cover the lens with the card, release the shutter then at the right time move the card. Remember the shutter will be open for 30 seconds. That give plenty of time to shoot several bursts on one frame.
If you have the remote release you can use the B or Bulb setting. As long as the release is held down, the shutter remains open. The locking release makes the shutter stay open until it is unlocked. The black card allows multiple fireworks to be stacked on a single exposure.
For single bursts us a 4 second shutter speed.
Shoot a lot. It’s easy. It’s also something to do while enjoying a cool beverage. It’s really important to stay hydrated in the summer heat even after the sun sets. NOTE: If you prefer adult beverages; Uber, Lyft, a taxi or a designated driver is the most important accessory of all.
Have a fun, wonderful and most of all safe Independence Day holiday!
After the Fourth, I’ll blog some tips for using the Develop module to get the best color out of your fireworks photographs.