On the eve of the Fourth, I thought it would be a good time to revive a Tipsheet that former Globe photographer David Kamerman wrote for us when RAW launched back in 2008. His advice and suggestions are still valid today.
David Kamerman took this shot of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial on Boston Common during the First Night fireworks display on New Year's Eve in 2006.
How do you get great shots of fireworks? If you have ever tried to photograph fireworks you already know why people ask this question — because it is difficult and unpredictable at best. It is a trial-and-error process in which the vast majority of images you shoot will not turn out well. How do I know this? Because I average only about a 10 to 15% ratio of usable fireworks images, even when trying to make that one great shot for the front page of The Boston Globe.
To start: You should have your camera manual handy as each camera manufacturer might use different terms. You will not be able to take one image and get a great photo; plan on shooting 30-50 images. Here are more tips to help you capture those July 4th fireworks shots.
- The most important tip when photographing fireworks is to use a tripod. You want to steady the camera. A tripod is really the best bet, although I have also used a coat or a sweatshirt wedged under the lens to steady the camera in a pinch.
- If your camera has a cable release, use it. This allows you to shoot hands-free photos and prevents you from shaking the camera. If your camera doesn't have this option, it's not the end of the world. Just remember to press the shutter release button is a very gentle manner and try to avoid shaking the camera.
- Don't use a flash. It won't have an effect on the fireworks, so just turn it off. Check your owner's manual to find out how to disable the flash.
- Use a low ISO speed, in the range of 100-400 ISO. A general rule of thumb: As your ISO increases so does the "graininess" in the black areas of your picture.
- If you can set your camera to show you images immediately after you take them, do it. This will allow you to get instant feedback. I set my camera, a Canon EOS-1Dmk2, to an automatic review time of four seconds.
- Set your camera to manual mode if you can. If you can't set your camera to manual mode, try aperture priority.
- I start out at ISO 100, with a shutter speed at 4 seconds and the aperture set at f.8. When I begin shooting the fireworks, I keep an eye on my screen, which allows me to see if my exposure is generally correct. If it is too bright, I take my aperture down to f.11 or f.16; if the exposure is too dark, I open up the aperture to f.6 or f.4. If you can't achieve these settings through your camera's manual mode, experiment with your camera's exposure compensation.
- I tend to only shoot the colored fireworks, as the bright white bursts tend to overexpose too quickly.
- Experiment and have fun!
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