Photography Tips | How To Photograph Fireworks Displays

Putrajaya International Fireworks Competition

© 2013 Wazari Wazir | Fireworks Display at Putrajaya | Malaysia | 50 mm | ISO 100 | f/13 | 13 Second

New year 2014 is just around the corner, and almost every new year celebration all over the world we can see a fireworks display and most photographers will never let the opportunity to photographing them, newcomers especially really excited to get to know on how they can get a beautiful fireworks display just like the professional. So without wasting too much of your precious times, I would like to share few tips that I learned so far, I’m not an expert but I will share something that worth sharing…

Location:

Actually the most crucial things when it comes to photographing fireworks is about “location”,  finding the right location is very crucial in order to get a beautiful fireworks display. The best fireworks display usually have a well known landmark whether it is in the foreground or background with the fireworks display is above them. Just take a look on the website for last year firework display especially taken by wired photographer who work with International news agency, such as Reuters, AP, AFP, EPA and few other agency. What did you noticed? Most of them have a well known landmark, so when people saw their pictures, they know where the picture is taken, whether it is in Malaysia, China, Japan or United States.

Usually in Malaysia the photographers will choose a Petronas Twin Tower as their landmark together with the fireworks display but, if you were in Malaysia, it does’t mean you all have to be n Kuala Lumpur. Just find out where the fireworks is taken place at your places and find out what is the landmark of your place, a well known building for an example.

Few days before that, you need to get to get to know where the fireworks will be shot, I mean where the fireworks is being set up, find the exact location, normally the area where they put the firework will be mark as no entry zone, just find out the red ribbons that covered the area or just ask the organiser, where they set ups the fireworks. So once you know where they keep the fireworks, then only you can find where is the best place to get the shot. If you don’t know where the fireworks will be shots from, it is very hard to find the best angle.

For an example, the photo of fireworks display above were taken at Putrajaya, most Malaysian can easily recognised the mosque, to the local, the mosque is knowns as “Masjid Besi” or Iron Mosque, the official name is “The Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque”.

Tripod :

Once you find the right location, all you need is a tripod. I don’t have to tell you that you need a camera right? Because off-course you all have a camera, otherwise why bother. Anyway, a tripod is a must, if you are serious about taking a fireworks display, you don’t need super expensive tripod, just a modest sturdy tripod will do the job. Get a sturdy tripod not a lightweight model.

Before I forget, once you already know where the location is, put your tripod ahead of times, maybe an hour before the fireworks display start. Depending on your location, sometimes, it can get crowded. About my picture about, actually there is more that fifty, yes more than 50 photographers with a tripod taking the fireworks about, can you imagines how tight the spot is, and most of them plant their tripod one to two hours before the fireworks display start, why?

Because they want to secure the best position or angle, and some photographer carry more than one tripod and camera. Some of them wanted to take a video with DSLR, some attached with telephoto lens and some with wide angle lens. So you get the ideas but if you were photographing from a secret location only known to you, then this does not apply.

Remote Release  :

Having a remote release for your camera is an advantage, even though you use a tripod, it can get a little bit shaking if you press the shutter button to take the shot. So using a remote release will keep your camera stabile.

But if you don’t have a remote release, then you can use a self timer on your camera. Set it in two seconds self timer, longer then that and you will miss some shot. Actually those who use remote release have a great advantage compared to those who use self timer, even though it is just a two second delays, sometimes even if it is just two seconds, you will miss a beautiful formation of fireworks, so you need to get this into consideration.

Lens :

The type of focal length is depend on your location, is is too far from the show, is it just nearby or what kind of angle that you want to take, a tight shot or a wide shot. Basically most people will use a wide angle lens to get a fireworks display because you need a lot of an empty space for the fireworks to fill the frame. So when you compose your shot, make sure you have enough place for the fireworks to show in full.

To be safe, is to use a zoom lens, something like 24 -70mm / 24 -120 / 24 -105 mm or you can use 70 -200 mm depending on your location and the distance between you and where the action is taking place.

Use Manual Mode :

Most of the time, you need to use a Manual Mode and the other thing is use manual focus or, you can use Auto Focus but once you focus on the landmark of a certain place, just LOCK the focus. So it will not “hunt” when the fireworks being shots. Some photographers even using a masking tape to secure their lenses from hunt, I mean they tape the focusing ring, so make sure the focus is locked. Forget about metering inside your camera, just ignore your camera metering for awhile, because the metering take a meter reading before it saw the fireworks, it is dark before the fireworks, so just ignore it for a while.

Aperture :

Normally I will use an Aperture between f/8 and f/16, I rarely use f/22. Like I said before don’t worry if your camera meter reading show that it was too underexposed, don’t worry, the fireworks are actually quite bright, remember don’t use f/1.2 or f/2.8, you are not shooting “Milky Way” right? You can always use f/2.8 or f/4, it’s your choice, you will never know why we are using f/8 or f/16 if you have never tried using other aperture right? Don’t be shy from doing your very own experimentation but one word of WARNING, if you get it wrong and the fireworks display is too short, you don’t have a second chance to fix your exposure, you need to wait for another new year, a year ahead of you, so better get it right in the very first place.

Shutter Speed :

This is among the most important thing, you need to use long exposure, that’s why you need a tripod. There is no fixed shutter speed, you need to experiment but to be safe try something from 8 seconds to 10 seconds with an aperture between f/8 and f/16. Sometimes they shot a multiple fireworks at the same times, sometimes they just shot one single big fireworks one at a time, so the brightness in the sky is not the same, that’s why you need to adjust the aperture, or shutter speed. But just adjust one thing at a time. If you think your first shot is too bright or underexposed, then adjust the shutter speed, make it longer or shorter.

Normally photographers will adjust the shutter speed, one shot after another and keep the Aperture the same. If you put the shutter speed open for too long, it will become too bright and not interesting.

ISO :

This is simple, just set it to the lowest ISO like ISO 100 or 200 will be nice. You can also use ISO 50 if your camera have but if the combination of  ISO 50 and Aperture of F/8 makes the shutter speed goes up to more than 15 seconds, it is no good. So stick around ISO 100 at best.

Now you have few tips that you can try but better get it right, why? Simply because the best fireworks display for photography is during the first few shots, after that it will be filled with smoke, even though the fireworks displays last for more than ten to fifteen minutes, the best one are the first few burst, after that, it will be too much smoke just like my photograph above.

My photograph above is not the best example, one thing because it was too much smokes, the second thing is that, on that day the wind blows quite heavily towards me so that’s why I get those kind of shot but still, I like it because it was like “the wild fire in the sky”.

One last thing, or I may add up it later, don’t forget to quickly check your picture in the LCD, to make sure the exposure is right and the picture is tack sharp because sometime if you were photographing in a crowded place, some people might accidentally bump up or steps into your tripod and ruin your camera focusing, sometimes, depending on where you take the shot, there might be unstable platform, where people might jumping in joy to celebrate a new year and will also ruin your focusing. Get a stable rock solid ground to plant your tripod and maybe you need to hang your bag under your tripod to make it more stabile.

Happy shooting and Happy New Year…

HaiQal

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