It is almost Christmas and New Year and that means it is the time of the year where you can do take some firework photos. Last year I tried it for the first time and it was a great experience. I will start off by sharing my best photo from last year and then go into how you can take yours this coming holiday.
Getting a good fireworks photo really comes down to two important factors, preparation and luck. I don't think I need to elaborate on the luck part, so I will just focus on what preparation should be done to make sure you get the photo you want!
It is very important to do your research to find the vantage point you want, this shouldn't be too hard since everyone knows where are the popular spots around town, so just check those out online and see if you can find some photos that you like and that will be your starting point. This will be the most important part of your photo because your vantage point basically determines what your photos are going to look like. Check it out beforehand if you have time, if you don't, try to be there as early as possible. It is going to be a long wait, but it might be well worth it to get a great photo!
As much as we photographers love to carry tons of gear to cover all possible situation, I would NOT recommend bringing too much because it is most likely going to be very crowded and you are just going to make it difficult for yourself. Bring only what you need!
Camera & Lens
Last year I only have an 18-200 with a D300, so I didn't have much of a choice. With that being said, it still covered basically everything I need. I do prefer zoom for this occasion as it provides the flexibility as you probably will be stuck in a crowd at the end of the day. If you know exactly where the fireworks are going to be, bring the appropriate focal length for the best results, but if not, stay on the wider side to make sure you get more than you need, nothing worse than getting the exposure right but with half the fireworks cut off.
Tripod is a must! Bring your tallest and sturdiest tripod so you can shoot above everyone when you need to. Be careful not to take up walkways or create any tripping hazard for others, be considerate is the key (last thing you want is someone blocking your view because you pissed them off!).
A remote shutter, wired or wireless, will be very useful as you don't have to worry about any camera shake and it allows you to enjoy the fireworks a little bit more without the need to stay behind the camera!
Memory Cards & Batteries
Bring more than enough of these to make sure you won't run out!
Food & Water & other important stuff
It is not just about camera gear! Bring a chair, some food and drinks and preferably a few friends to make the long wait more bearable!
Knowing the right settings is the key to get the right picture and M mode is definitely the way to go for this one since your camera is no way smart enough to choose the right settings for you.
It is the most important part of the exposure triangle for fireworks. I personally prefer a relatively short shutter speed, varying between 4 to 6 seconds as it is about the length of one explosion. You can definitely go longer if you want more in your shot but I think it is more risky as the next explosion might make it better or worse (Stacking a few shots together might be a better option in my opinion). Besides, underexpose pictures can be saved easier that blown out ones, so I would recommend staying on the faster side.
I have chosen f/14 to get a large depth of field to make sure all the fireworks are in focus. Vary this according to the situation, go smaller (f/22 or so) if the fireworks are far apart in terms of depth and go larger if you have foreground (eg. crowd of people) you want to blur out.
ISO 100 is probably the way to go since you want minimal noise, but pump if up if the you need to depending on the situation.
There are numerous methods and techniques out there including using a black card. bulb mode and many others, they might work better but since I have yet to try them out, I won't go into those. It was my first time trying to photograph fireworks last year and it worked, so I will stick to my experience as I want you all to know what I have done and what are the results.
Now that you have everything set up, you are ready to press the trigger and fire away! Fireworks is all about getting the right timing and based on my experience, press the trigger when the explosive is fired and that should give you a rough starting point. Unfortunately, you will probably need to check the first few photos and see if they are what you want before continuing until you get the hang of it. Some general suggestions I have learnt are as follows:
- Keep shooting once you get the settings right, you won't have that much time, so shoot first and check later;
- Check to make sure your horizon is level;
- Vary the shutter speed a little to experiment and learn from the results;
- Fireworks usually gets bigger and brighter towards the end, so close down your aperture or increase your shutter speed towards the end;
- Smoke and clouds will be your worst enemies, but they are out of your control, so the first few minutes of the fireworks will be your best time to take that good picture before the smoke starts to show;
- Change from landscape to portrait or wide angle to telephoto if you have the time to play around with it! Zooming in when you find the fireworks are getting boring to try something different;
- ENJOY your time, it is new year's eve after all, spend it with your friends and family and have a great time, getting a good photo will be a great bonus on top, but enjoying your time will be most important!
5. Post Processing
This is going to depend on your pictures but I will try to give some general tips for you to start. Increasing the contrast and deceasing the blacks will make the sky less distracting; increasing the vibrance will make the colour stands out more; reducing the highlight and whites if the fireworks are overexposed; and change the white balance if you want to creating a different feeling to the photo. Below is an example of how I did my edits and as you can see, I really haven't done too much post processing, so it shouldn't be too hard for you to try it yourself!
I hope all of you enjoy my post and get out there to try it this holiday. Getting the shot is rewarding but enjoying a great holiday with your loved ones should be your priorities, so I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
If you have a minute or two, check out my other fireworks photo or my portfolio! I have recently started my online store, so please drop by and have a look. I am working on getting international shipping but for now, if you are in Australia and you like what you saw, you can support me by purchasing one of my photos or share it with your friends!
Until Next time, keep shooting!