During the summer months people of Bournemouth can enjoy a spectacular fireworks show every Friday night around the main pier. As I happened to be working in Bournemouth for two months, I thought that was a great opportunity to launch into something completely new: capturing fireworks. Here are just a few of my thoughts you may find useful next time you want to capture fireworks yourself.
First of all, you will need a tripod and a remote (either infrared or cord) in order to trigger the shutter without any contact with the camera. The exposure may vary from 2 to 4 seconds so it’s best to avoid touching your camera or the tripod. Wide-angle lenses are recommended for this kind of photography, as you will be able to get closer to the fireworks. You may also use a more popular focal length such as 18mm (most standard kit lenses) but you will have to step back a little more and other people may get in the way. Just make sure you come an hour before to find a good vantage point.
Set up your tripod and mount your camera in the landscape mode. Then, pre-focus your camera on any object which is at the same distance from the camera as the fireworks and switch the focus to manual. The reason for this is that your camera may have problems with focusing automatically when the fireworks begin due to the changing light conditions. After all, you don’t want to miss an excellent opportunity.
In order to get everything in the frame sharp, I shot with an f/8 aperture but that made the shutter speed significantly longer. Therefore, I had to boost up the ISO to reduce the shutter speed to approx. 2-4 seconds. The greatest challenge about this project was in fact the light. It’s hard to rely on your camera’s light meter as it is impossible to predict how much light the fireworks will produce. Therefore, shoot in RAW and initially underexpose your pictures a little as the fireworks will produce a lot of light. Secondly, timing is also crucial. Usually, the first 10 to 20 seconds are the best as the sky is relatively smoke-free. Then, the more fireworks the more smoke appears in the sky, creating strange patterns and ruining the exposure. Also, if you want to capture a well exposed streaks of light, shoot with 2-4 second shutter speed. Of course, you may experiment with a longer shutter speed but they usually create a lot of messy patterns.
Finally, post-production is a very important part of this kind of photography. In most cases, you will end up with some parts of the light streaks overexposed due to the amount of light they produce. In order to bring out more details from the fireworks shoot in RAW, reduce highlights and work on the curve.
If you need some inspiration just visit the following Flickr groups devoted to fireworks:
Thank you for reading and good luck with your photography.
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