How to Photograph Fireworks

Photograph by:  peaceful-jp-scene

Photograph by: peaceful-jp-scene

Shooting fireworks is easy if you follow some basic steps.

Step 1. Know your camera. Every year, I see people fumbling with their cameras in the dark, trying to make adjustments and navigate their camera settings . Trying to change settings on your camera in the dark can lead to frustration and lots of missed opportunities. Be sure and spend some quality time with your cameras manual before the big event, be sure and get comfortable setting your cameras Mode, ISO, Shutter, and Aperture settings. Also, it's a good idea to bring along a mini flashlight to help lumen-ate things when needed.


Step 2. Bring a tripod. This is essential. shooting in the dark requires long exposures, sometimes several seconds. Trying to hand-hold your camera for that length of time is next to impossible. Also, if you want the best control over the quality of your shots, I recommend a shutter release cable. A cable release ensures stability, and makes taking pictures a much more comfortable process, since you can watch the fireworks in the sky, and time your shots much more accurately.

Photograph By:  sj liew

Photograph By: sj liew

Step 3. Pick a good vantage point to shoot from. Location, location, location. Arrive early and scout a good location with a unobstructed view. Be sure and stay clear of ambient light sources (such as light poles) that will cause your shots to overexpose.

Step 4. Turn Autofocus off. You heard me right, turn it off. Most cameras have a terrible time with low-light shooting. Low-light shooting can cause cameras autofocus system to constantly hunt in the dark. Autofocus is simply not needed for fireworks. Simply set your lens to infinity. 

Step 5. Camera Settings. The settings I give you here are starting points. Once on location, you will no doubt have to make slight adjustments, but for the most part they are a good place to start.

  • Set your camera mode to Manual Mode.

  • Set you ISO to 100.

  • Set your shutter speed to BULB.

  • Set your Aperture to f/11

P hotograph By:  Tim Shields

Photograph By: Tim Shields

Step 6. Exposure Timing.A good rule of thumb is to open the shutter as soon as you hear or see the rocket shooting into the sky and to leave it open until the burst is dissipating. This will usually take several seconds. Anywhere between 1 and 4 seconds, usually give excellent results.

Most of all.. Get out and have some fun! Happy Shooting!

The Rule of Thirds

Let me start out saying that "The Rule of Thirds" is a compositional 'rule of thumb', not a hard and fast rule.

The first rule in photography is; that there are no rules.

To explain the rule of thirds, we need a visual. The rules says you should divide your image into a grid of thirds, like pictured below.

You'll notice the grid causes the lines to intersect at four (4) main intersections (Marked with a red circle). At the intersection of these lines is where you would place a point of interest for a subject. The rule of thirds is considered by many to make pictures more aesthetically pleasing and professional-looking. The rule of thirds can be applied by lining up subjects with the guiding lines, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line instead of the center, or allowing linear features in the photograph to flow from section to section.

The rule of thirds is a simple and effective way to produce aesthetically pleasing pictures, and once you start putting it into practice, you'll begin noticing it being used in paintings, billboards,  and even television. The rule of thirds may turn out to be the most powerful tool in your camera bag.

Multi-point vs Single Point AF

Today's cameras provide fast, reliable, auto focus systems (AF). Most modern cameras are now equipped with multi-point AF sensors that do a great job provide quick high-speed tracking for our subjects. As great as the technology is, it can't read your mind. Even the most advance auto focus system cannot determine your photographic intentions. With subjects at various distances from the camera, a multi-point AF system will often focus on the nearest reliable target. Undoubtedly there will be times the cameras auto focus will focus on the wrong subject, giving you less than desirable results.

Instead of relying on your cameras auto focus to make decisions for you. Why not break away from the point-and-shoot approach, and tell the camera exactly where you want the focus.

Most cameras today, that offer multi-point AF, allow you to manually select which focus point to use to ensure focus on your intended subject, and give your photos the results you want.

I recommend setting your camera to use a single focus point. In my opinion, using the method of Focus and Compose, is the most effective method of getting accurate shots.

To use this method, simply set your cameras AF to only use the center focus point. The rest is strictly technique. When taking a picture, position the camera's center AF point directly on the subject you wish to be focused on, then activate your cameras AF Lock by pressing the shutter button down halfway. Once your cameras signals you a focus lock, (usually a audio beep or the center AF point in the view finder will light up). Continue to hold the shutter down halfway, then recompose your shot.

We've all seen those fantastic portraits were the models eyes just draw you in. In these type of portrait shots, we generally want to focus on the eyes. This effect can rarely be achieved in a point-and-shoot mode with multi-point AF.

Using the Focus and Recompose Method, we simply place the center AF point directly on the subjects eyes, lock the focus, and recompose, once composed, take the shot.

This will take some practice, but the results are well worth it.