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Shooting Fireworks

For my Friday Photo Tip this week I thought I write about photographing fireworks.

Over Memorial Day weekend I go my first taste of the season’s fireworks. I must confess I am a bit of a pyrotechnics junkie. I just love them! I love to photograph them as well.

But I’m always amazed to see people attempting to take pictures of fireworks and seeing their flash go off. So here are few tips whether you have a Point and Shoot or an SLR.

What ever you do it’s always important to steady the camera if you want to capture the streaks of light. Tripod is always best, but if you don’t want to lug that around you can get a little gorillapod or even use a monopod (as I did for these images and braced it securely against the concrete, folding chair and my legs). If you have none of that, you can try to simply hand hold it and brace your arms against your body for extra support and don’t breathe while the shutter is open.

Most Point and Shoot cameras these days have a “Fireworks” setting in their Menu. If you don’t want to mess with anything else, at least find that on your camera and select that setting. I’m not sure what their default aperture and shutter speeds setting are, but you may be able to get some usable images that way.

If you have more controls or an SLR, set your ISO to something slow like 100, then choose an aperture anywhere from f6-f16. If you can, select “B” for Bulb mode, meaning the shutter stays open for as long as your finger stays down on the shutter button.  You’ll most likely hold it down anywhere from around a second or longer, depending on how bright each set of bursts are.

The idea is that since the light emitting from the exploding fireworks are so bright, you want to only grab that light and not all of the background, hence the low ISO and small aperture size. You do however want to get the movement of the bursts of light, so you’ll need a slow shutter speed.

Mostly likely your focus will be at infinity so go ahead and set it there and turn off your auto focus so your camera doesn’t waste time searching for something to focus on in the dark.

This does require some experimenting when you first try it. A good place to start is always steady your camera, point it up in the direction of the exploding bursts. If you have tripod, set the aperture closer to f16, so you’ll need longer shutter speeds to compensate for less light. If not, as in my case last weekend, I had the aperture at f6.3 using my monopod. Then take some shots at 1, 2, 3 seconds (shorter for the brighter bursts) and see what you get.  Then make adjustments as needed.

All these fireworks shots here from last weekend were either 1 or 2 second exposures at f6.3 on a very carefully wedged monopod. Good Luck!

{Update:  More fireworks images from 4th of July weekend 2010.}

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