We’ve all seen those crispy clear professional photographs of beautiful fireworks displays. But have you ever tried taking a photo of bright colorful fireworks only to be disappointed with dark, blurry, washed-out images? Well, with the right equipment and these tips and techniques, you can take your own amazing photos of this holiday season’s fireworks.
The #1 secret behind capturing fireworks: Use a slow shutter speed, so you can record those dramatic, colorful light trails as they explode through the sky. That also means you’ll need some sort of camera support to capture a steady, unblurred shot. The best way to stabilize your camera is with a tripod, where it can sit motionless through a long exposure. In a pinch, though, you can always try to brace yourself against a tree or a building, or hold the camera atop a monopod or walking stick.
If your point-and-shoot camera has a “fireworks mode”, go ahead and enable it — it will automatically adjust the camera’s various settings for long-exposure night photography. For the most part, you will find that the preset fireworks mode achieves good results — it turns the flash to off, sets autofocus to infinity and exposure compensation to off, bumps down the shutter speed and aperture, and lowers the ISO.
Advanced photographers are better off going with long manual exposures for more creative control. Some point-and-shoots may lack a fireworks-specific mode, but may still allow you to manually adjust the settings. In those cases, set the camera to its lowest ISO setting, which will minimize the camera’s tendency to generate distracting digital noise during the long exposure. You should also turn off automatic focus and set the camera’s focus to infinity, so it doesn’t search helplessly for a subject in the dark when you’re trying to start the exposure.
No manual focus control? Try using the camera’s landscape mode, which also sets the focus to infinity; the low-light environment will encourage the camera to shoot at a slow shutter speed by default. If you can control the aperture setting on your point-and-shoot, dial in a low f/stop, somewhere between f/8 and f/16. That will help prevent overexposing the scene during the long exposure and avoid light “blooms” coming from the explosions in the sky.
And finally, choose a slow shutter speed–anywhere between 1 second and 16 seconds can work, depending upon the amount of ambient light and how many fireworks are in the sky. The longer your exposure, the more fireworks you’ll capture at once, and the longer your light trails will be. So you might want to start with a shutter speed around 1 to 4 seconds and see if you like the results. For really long exposures, try covering the lens with your hand or the lens cap between bursts to avoid over-exposing the picture.
Digital SLR users have an easier time, or at least more options, in picking the right settings for fireworks. Throw the camera on full manual mode, preselect your lens’s focal length (unless you’re using a prime lens that has only one focal length, the aperture will change every time you adjust the focal length), dial in a low aperture opening, and pick a slow shutter speed. Most SLRs also have a “bulb” mode, which leaves the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter release. You can use it to take exposures as much as 30 seconds long. If you go for super-long exposures, you might want to cover the lens between fireworks.
I hope this helps you to achieve some fantastic fireworks pictures this holiday!