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8 Tips for Great Firework Photography

Professional photographer Maris Ehlers shares 8 tips for Firework Photography on the St. Michael Patch.

A great firework photograph always gets nearly as many "ooh's" and "aah's" as the real thing. Many people think they are tricky to capture, but they really aren't. You just need to prepare and be patient for the right shot. 

Since I haven't taken any firework pictures in the past few years, my children and I decided we'd capture a fantastic display of them at the end of the driveway. Well, it was a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, since we both a) live in Minnesota where only g-rated fireworks are available (which in my case is probably a good thing), and b) I had to light the fuse and THEN run back to my camera to try to capture the light, it's a miracle I have even the pictures that I do to share with you. Let's be clear, however, these are not going to get any "ooh's", and I'm okay with that. These are for illustration purposes only.  

Below is a list of tips and tricks to add some sparkle to your firework photo display: 

Tip #1 - Use a Tripod 

This is really a must. You need your camera to be as steady as possible, and a tripod will get the job done. If you have a remote shutter release, even better. Even just the pressure of your finger on the shutter release can cause some camera shake when photographing fireworks. 

Tip #2 - High Aperture / High Shutter 

One of the mistakes I used to make when I first started photographing fireworks was that I assumed because it was so dark out I needed a really low aperture (f/2.8 or so), but in reality it's just the opposite. Fireworks throw off a lot of light into your frame, and so the best way to capture them appropriately is to use an aperture of f/8.0 - f/16. This way you'll capture the tails, etc., which are the fun parts. A fast shutter speed is important, though, so make sure you can get it high enough to get the action, since fireworks "move" rapidly.  

Tip #3 - ISO 100 

Another thing I used to think was that again, because the night sky was so dark, I should use a high ISO, but think about it - if you were able to use an ISO high enough to adequately light the night sky (which you can't), then the whole frame would be lit up, not just the fireworks themselves.  I find that 100 ISO is usually perfect, combined with my higher shutter speed, higher aperture and a tripod (plus tip #4 below). 

Tip #4 - Use Bulb or Manual Exposure 

I actually prefer using Bulb or "B" exposure, as I think it's easier to get better results, especially when using tips 1-3 above.  How long you hold down the shutter release in this mode dictates how much movement and firework light you will have in your picture.  If you hold it down too long, you'll have lots of streams of light, but probably will sacrifice pattern.  I do love keeping a really long exposure with sparklers.  

For extra sparkler fun, try setting up your camera per above and then have a person hold a sparkler in the dark in front of your camera.  As you hold down the shutter, have them make a letter to a word over and over with their sparkler.  A popular word is "LOVE" at weddings.  You'll hold the shutter release down while they make the "L" over and over, back and forth.  Do it again, this time with the "O", etc., etc.  It's a lot of fun!  You'll see I had my daughter make an "O" to show here (well, she sort of did).  

Also, don't use flash.  This will illuminate the whole frame and completely ruin the effect that you are going for. 

Tip #5 - Focus on Focusing

Prepare your focal point ahead of time.  It's super disappointing if you are excited to capture a firework display and then as they are going off you are trying to figure out where to focus.  Try to see where they are most likely to burst in the sky, frame your picture, prepare you focus (even try focal lock) and then be patient.  The shot will come. 

Tip #6 - Be Upwind if Possible

If there are going to be a ton of fireworks, make sure you are upwind if possible, otherwise you are likely to have hazy images from the smoke of previous fireworks towards the end of the display. 

Tip #7 - Composure

Even though it may be a pitch black sky when you first look through your viewfinder, always keep composition in mind.  Frame your fireworks in a pleasing way with a focal point in mind, and you'll be much happier with the results. 

Tip #8 - ENJOY! 

I hope to capture some actual firework images this year at a place more exciting than my back yard (perhaps the Hanover display), and if I do, I'm definitely bringing my tripod and camera with to catch some of the action.  I hope you'll do the same! 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Maris Ehlers July 02, 2012 at 03:29 PM
And don't forget the bug spray! UGH.

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