Taking pictures of fireworks July 2009 – Peter Gregg

Fireworks are one of the best oh and ahhh moments of the family July 4th gatherings. They are pretty to watch and there are the “adventurers” that fire up the fireworks and the “concerned” folks who are always telling us to BE CAREFUL – lol.

I have to admit I get tired of being told to be careful all the time, after all, at my age I am looking out for the kids and STILL getting told by the well meaning and wonderful grandparents to BE CAREFUL – ha.

Taking pictures of fireworks is also a lot of fun and I actually look forward to getting out there to take my fireworks shots. Here are some suggestions to help you get better fireworks pictures.

Read how by clicking where it says READ MORE!



To help you get better fireworks pictures we are going to concentrate on framing the shot, getting the camera steady, exposure settings, and a few other things to consider.

Composing the picture.

Most people take pictures of fireworks way too close. I think we get caught up in the excitement of the moment – see the fireworks exploding – and want to photograph the emotions we are feeling at seeing the sky burst forth with light.

But in reality, a huge part of the emotion is also the surrounding area that our eye sees but we leave out of the shot when we take the picture.

If the kids are doing the fireworks out in the back yard by the lake or yard and there are party goers out there too, rather than trying to just shoot the fireworks :burst all by it lonesome up in the sky, use a wide lens and back up – A LOT.

I usually go in the front of the house to include the house, people and other surroundings in the picture. The same holds true if you are looking and photographing professional fireworks displays. Don’t sit in the crowd for your pictures, try and find a (very safe) spot somewhere farther from the park or venue to include some kind of anchor in your picture.

I shot the above shot from the street in the front of the house. It include stuff on the ground that anchors my picture by framing it using the house, the people at the July 4th party, and even some of the trees and foliage from the neighbors house. My shot isn’t going to win any awards, but for the family to view it months later it tells a story of what is happening and is more enjoyable to look at.

Getting the camera steady.

In one word – a tripod.

If you have one, NOW is the time to use it :)

Tripoding your camera is super important for fireworks pictures. You can’t hold the camera steady for shots that will last a second and more – no way momma, so don’t try :)

The tripod is the most useful way to steady the camera. They aren’t all THAT expensive if you don’t have one if you go to places like Target (in the USA) to buy one. But even if your budget is super tight, there are other secret things you can do. I have this little mini tripod I bought called the Gorillapod at KMart (or lots of other stores) that is small, cheap (like $15) and can be bent and contorted into many many position – like facing upward.

I have also used a patio chair and a bunch of towels fluffed up to make a cradle for the camera. You get the picture right? Steady that camera, don’t hold it – put it on something to steady it.

After the camera is steady, you need to take a moment to figure out how you are going to fire it. If you are a “shutter masher” that has to change really quick. You will either use the camera’s timer, or get a remote firing shutter (Ebay it), or learn to gently fire the shutter without introducing any camera shake. Sorry – there is no way around this part – you MUST eliminate the camera shake.

Exposure.

Funny as it may sound but lots of folks don’t know how to put their camera in B mode. Some cameras are obvious on the B settings, others not so much. Find your B setting on your camera. B is for Bulb, and when set to B the shutter will stay open as long as you hold the shutter down.

I set my camera (on it’s tripod) at ISO 100, at F8 to F11, and using a remote trigger I hold the shutter open (in the B mode) for a burst of the fireworks. When you start to get good about it, you can anticipate the “liftoff” of the fireworks and open the shutter and get the streak from the ground up like the picture above.

I should explain a tiny bit more on the camera settings. Here are a couple of additional suggestions:

1. Make sure the flash is OFF.

2. Put the camera in M for Manual mode.

3. Set the shutter speed to B (that’s the B mode I have been talking about).

4. Set the F stop to F8 (adjust to taste after you take a shot or 2).

5. Set the ISO to 100 or 200.

6. Take the camera outdoors about 15 minutes or longer before you need to use it so the temp differences from inside to outside can balance out.

7. If you wind up shooting from the street – PLEASE practice safety. THis isn’t a joke, kids will be happily running and drivers of cars may be looking up at the fireworks and not at YOU in the middle of the street with your camera and tripod – hope you get the message.

8. Pay attention to the wind. The smoke from the lift off of the fireworks can ruin your pictures. It happened to me one year, I was in the “smoky” spot and the shots looked like the camera was fogged up.

A few things to consider.

I wanted to put SMOKE in here, but carried away and put it in my list above. Remember we are shooting digital (I hope) cameras now. After you buy the camera there is no cost to experiment. You can’t go back and recreate the fireworks so take lots of shots and experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

If you really enjoyed taking these shots, write yourself a few notes for what to do and improve on for next time. Trust me, you will not remember when the time comes – been there – done that. Jot down a few notes on what you think you can do better and include details like settings that worked for you and what didn’t and maybe even a wish list. For next time you may want a remote shutter trigger or a better tripod, or a wider lens. Take a few notes and it will help you when the time comes.

Personally I happen to like both the tight shots and the wide shots, so I bring two lenses with me and an easy way to carry them and not look dumb and like a camera nerd in the process (I have something coming to market in this area that is a secret right now but watch for it – shhh). If you are using a full sensor camera or a cropped sensor camera the lenses will give you a different aspect view of what you can see o keep that in mind.

Tell you what – I would LOVE to see the pix you take this year. Send me a few of your fireworks pictures to AskPeterGregg@aol.com – Follow these rules please:

1. Size them so they are no bigger than 800×800 pixels – please DO NOT SEND full size files – they are too big for email.

2. Keep EXIF info intact so I can see your settings, camera, date and so on.

3. MUST be your own work – I don’t break copyright on other photographers, please don’t you do it either.

I will pick out what I want to post and show them in a future article here at Prophotohome.com for all to see after a week or so. Include your name if you want it to go with your picture and to make it interesting anything unique about the picture. Remember to keep the exif info intact – this means no using Photoshop’s web ready feature, that strips out the settings.

Have a safe and happy July 4th and Happy Birthday and God Bless the USA!!!

Happy shooting and see you online.

Peter Gregg

PS: I am compiling a question and answer article. If you would like to ask a question that may (or may not) be featured in an article please write your question to the following email: askpetergregg@aol.com
A staff member at the studio will be compiling these so there will be no email replies and by sending me the question you are authorizing me to use the question for the article with no other considerations.

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