Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to Photograph Fireworks on 4th of July

 4th of July is coming up and everybody's been asking me: "How do you photograph fireworks?"


Well, first of all, you have to make sure that your camera is capable of photographing fireworks. You guys know me, you know that I take most all of my photography with my camera phone, but, let me tell you, a camera phone is not sufficient to photograph fireworks. To be able to photograph fireworks you don't necessarily need an expensive SLR like the one I have in the video, but you do need a camera that has a good manual mode where you can set both the aperature and the shutter together.

Now, to be able to film fireworks effectively, you're going to need a tripod. Your first and most primary piece of equipment is a tripod. You can get them for about $20 at Amazon, you can get nicer ones more expensively. You want to make sure that your tipod is in a good position with a good view of where the fireworks are going to be. You want to be up against the rail if you can be. Either that or be way in the back up a hill where you're going to be over top of people's heads.

You set up your tripod there and make sure your tripod is nice and level. Figure out where the fireworks are going to be shot off from and point your camera that way. Like, in Tahoe we shoot off our fireworks from Nevada Beach so I'm pointint my camera towards Nevada Beach. You square up a nice, level shot of where the fireworks are and zoom in so that the fireworks area is framed nicely in your camera.

Camera Settings:

Now you want to set your camera to manual mode. Set your aperature to f8, set your ISO to 200, and then you want to be varying your shutter speed as you take the pictures. Now, how long your shutter speed goes for is going to determine what your picture looks like. If you do a shutter speed of half a second that's going to capture one, or maybe a couple of bursts of fireworks in a nice clear single frame. If you extend your exposure to 1 second, 2 seconds, all the way up to 5 seconds (you may need to stop down to a smaller aperature if you're filming for 5 seconds); you're going to get more and more bursts of fireworks in any single frame.

So, if you're looking to get a bunch of fireworks like the climax of a fireworks display, go with a 3-5 second exposure with an aperature of f10-14;

if you want to get a single firework or a couple of fireworks go with a half second exposure with an aperature of f8.

Make sure that you either have a cable relase, or if you are doing it just with the camera's shutter button that you push your camera button quickly and release it as quickly as you can because if your hand shakes while it's on the button you're going to ruin whichever picture you're taking. Take lots of pictures over the course of the fireworks display. You can adjust your zoom to zoom out to get a large shot, say if the fireworks are high; or you can zoom in to just a single firework and take a quick exposure to get that single firework in the sky look.

Shooting Fireworks on Video

Now, if you're going to be filming video of fireworks, video can actually be a lot easier. Again, you need a good video camera to be able to shoot fireworks effectively. Most any consumer HD camcorder will work. Set the camera either to fireworks mode if it has a dedicated fireworks mode (check your camera manual) because if your camera has a dedicated fireworks mode that will do all the settings for you. Otherwise have your camcorder on night mode on a tripod and just set up your camcorder to look at the fireworks: set it, turn it on, run it for the whole fireworks display, turn it off at the end. Just make sure that nobody bumps your tripod, because, really, the best fireworks display on video is the one that doesn't have bumps in the middle that you have to take out.

If you want stills from your video, you can take your video into an editing suite like Adobe Premiere and capture stills: Just import the video into Premiere, put the video on the timeline, play through to the frame you want, pause, and click on the little camera icon under the editing screen.

They won't look as smooth as stills from an SLR, but you will at least be able to get nice clear stills, and because it's video you'll be able to choose what frame rather than have to put up with whatever your camera happened to capture when you were pressing the button.