New Year’s Day is approaching and your city or town may offer up a spectacular light show to ring in the new year. Unfortunately, photographing fireworks is one of the most challenging tasks for any photographer. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to take better photos of fireworks, our quick guide may just help you achieve that.
Use a Tripod
Using a tripod is absolutely necessary to capture clear and sharp photos of fireworks. Since you’re essentially capturing streaks of light over a long exposure, you need the camera to be as steady as possible.
Ditch the Flash
We can’t say how many times we’ve seen people photographing fireworks with their camera’s flash turned on. Flash won’t help you here. Conserve your batteries and set your flash to “off.”
Your best bet is to turn off autofocus completely, if possible. If you leave it on, your camera’s autofocus system will likely just “hunt” back and forth because it won’t have any object to lock focus on. Instead, set your focus to some point in the distance. If there are other distant objects in your shot (such as a building or skyline), focus on those.
Most DSLR lenses have a distance scale on the focus ring. Try starting off with your lens at the infinity (∞) symbol and adjust from there as necessary.
Use a Cable Release
A cable release is handy to reduce vibrations caused by pressing the shutter release on the camera. It’s not necessary, but helpful. If you don’t have one, be careful to keep steady when you press and release the shutter release button on your camera.
Exposure Settings (ISO and Aperture)
For best image quality, set your camera’s ISO setting to 100. At this setting your camera’s sensor will be “tuned down” and produce images with the least noise. While most modern DSLRs produce very low noise even at high ISO settings, there’s no real reason to increase the settings here. Since the camera is stabilized on a tripod, it’s not really necessary to use a “fast” setting. (If you have no choice but to handhold the camera, you can try a very fast ISO setting like 3200 or 6400 and see what kind of results you can get with shorter exposure times.)
You’ll want to set your camera’s mode to B or “bulb” mode. This mode keeps the shutter open for as long as you depress the shutter release.
As far as aperture is concerned, try starting off with f/8 and adjust from there. Depending on how bright the fireworks display is, you’ll need to adjust up and down. If your exposures are too bright, close down to f/11 or f/13. If they’re too dark, open up to f/5.6 or f/4.
Try to open your shutter a second or two before the first burst explodes. Keep your shutter open until it’s finished. If you want to capture “multiple” bursts, keep your shutter open for as long as they’re exploding.
You’ll want to frequently check your exposures to see if they’re too light and dark. This will generally depend on how many bursts are exploding at once. Refer to the exposure settings section above to determine what to do if your exposures are too light or dark.
We hope our simple guide will make shooting photographs fun and exciting. With a little practice, patience, and a steady hand, you too can produce great photographs of fireworks.
(Main image via Wesley Guijt/Shutterstock)