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Tips for Firework Photography
by Santanu Nag © 2000
for The Spirit Of Photography

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This brief tutorial will get you jumpstarted started in the art of capturing fireworks. It will shed some light on the basics of film, exposure, composition for this special subject. No longer burnt films and blurry photos!

Camera
If you are using a point & shoot, turn off the flash, and set it to the longest exposure mode it has. Some cameras have nightmode, bulb etc. In the nightmode the camera increases the exposure time, and in bulb mode the shutter remains open as long as you press the button.

If you have an SLR (single lens reflex) camera you'll have full control over the exposure settings .. so read on.

Flash
In short turn that damn thing off! You can't light up the full sky. The only exception is perhaps if you have a subject in the foreground.

If someone is posing with fireworks in the background ask him not to move, because u'll have a long exposure timings to catch the fireworks - and if he moves u'll get a blurry thingy. And With short timings ( 1/125 or lower) there will be no fireworks in ur photo - only a dark background and a mouthful grin!.

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Tripod
Don't even bother shooting without a tripod, it's a waste of film. Of course someone might find the wavy streaks from handheld camera creative!

For fireworks, if you want to capture the full ascent and the burst, you'll need a exposure timings of typically 0.5s to 8s. Yes that's in seconds. So better drag that darn tripod with you. And having a cable release also helps to prevent shakes in long exposures.

Lens
Fireworks are generally large subjects! Most of the time I use 28-80mm zoom lens. The zoom lens gives me more flexibility in composition than fixed lens, especially when movement is restricted due to darkness and there is not enough time.

Film
Any ISO100 film is good enough - though you might have your own choice of brands. The main point is you don't need high speed films like ISO400, ISO800 for fireworks. Firecrackers are very bright, it'll just burn off your high speed film and all your colors wil be white!. And if you set it to very small timings (like 1/250), it'll be difficult to capture the full bloom.

For negatives Kodak Gold 100 and Fuji Velvia/ Sensia II for slides, works best for me.

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Exposure
Typically fireworks will be streaks of light against a black sky. I set the aperture at f8 and my exposure timings vary from 2s to 8s depending on the type of burst.

If you want to capture the cracker as it rises and explodes into dazzles, you have to set a longer time - at least more than 4secs. Anything lower than 2s usually will get you a part of the fireball not the full blown one.

Sometimes you might have showers, where the full sky is lit up for quite sometime, in this case you have to be careful and bring down your exposure to a much lower level. You can do this by decreasing the aperture size to f16, f22 and so on.

In the climax usually the sky is very busy with too many fireworks, in this situation a smaller exposure time (1/30s - 1s) usually keeps the photo uncluttered.

Composition
Fireworks work beautifully on a vertical format. Especially if you can include other lighted structures - like bridges, buildings, cityscapes etc. But then, there are always exceptions.

If you have water bodies near the venue, reflections can create magic in your photos.

Try to capture the streaks of light as the firecracker goes up in the sky.

To capture multiple bursts on the same frame, you can either go for the Multiple Exposure mode on modern cameras or leave the shutter open using bulb mode - and in between fireworks cover ur lens with a hat! Move the camera between exposures so that they don't overlap on eachother.

General
Research the site before you go there and try to go to the venue early, you can then choose your vantage point.

Fireworks can be dangerous, so don't go too near - make your zooms work for you.

Don't finish all your rolls in the beginning, the climaxes at the end are usually the best.

Try to avoid getting peoples head into your photos.

This event usually gets smokey, don't forget to take care of your equipment.


Summary:
  • Cameras - SLR cameras are better than P&S cameras for shooting firework.
  • Lens - Wide angle lenses(28-80mm) are suitable.
  • Flash - Do not use it.
  • Tripod - Absolutely needed. Use a cable release if possible.
  • Film - ISO50-100 film speed is ideal.
  • Exposure - 0.5s/f8 to 8s/f8 is the typical range.
  • Composition - Vertical format is recommended, try to include other lighted structures, waterbodies etc.
  • General - Safety is formost, for you and your equipment.
Good Luck

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