Take Great Firework Shots! (Here's How...)

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(Photo by Victoria Martinez)

Let’s admit it, we love watching things explode. Firework displays, like barbeques, hot dog eating contests and open air band concerts, are practically synonymous with our nation’s birthday celebration. And July’s question of the month is always, “How can I take really good pictures of fireworks?” Here are some helpful tips. The first one involves a shooting mode that’s built into most cameras….

1. If you have it, use the "Fireworks Mode" that in your camera's scene menu. What does this mode do? On cameras that have this in their scene menu ,the fireworks mode will turn the flash off, set focus to infinity, disable exposure compensation, and lower the ISO.  It will also slow down the shutter speed to about 4 seconds per exposure.  Because of the long exposure, the next tip is crucial...

2. Use a Tripod -Because of the slow shutter speed required to pick up light at night, a tripod will help you get the best, blur-free fireworks photos. If you don’t have a tripod, you can find other ways to keep your camera steady. Try using a flat surface to place the camera (like the hood of your car) Or, when using the fireworks scene mode, brace the camera against your body as best you can to keep it as still as possible.

Here's some tips for folks who don't have a firework scene mode in their camera or want to do it old school style...

3. Along with using an exposure time of  of  "bulb" or 1-4 seconds,  set your ISO settings to 100 or the lowest ISO possible. If you set the ISO higher (or if you leave the camera on Auto ISO), you'll get a noisy, overexposed sky.

4. Try not touching the shutter button-You should avoid touching the camera when the exposure starts, so you don't move it and blur the photo. You can try to use the camera's self-timer to trigger the exposure, but you would have to trigger your exposure in advance to anticipate that perfect fireworks moment. A better solution is to invest in a wireless remote or a shutter release cable, both of which let you take the photo without touching the camera. We sell them here & can run you anywhere from $30 to $60 - a good investment for this and any number of picture situations.

5. As for your exposures, remember that the sky will get brighter as the show goes on. When the show begins,  you'll only see a couple of fireworks in the sky at any one time, but as the show builds towards it's climatic finale, the sky will be filled with brigher & more dramatic explosions at the same time. That means you'll want to close down the aperture more as the display progresses, or you'll end up with badly overexposed photos. If you were shooting 4 seconds at f/11 at the start of the show, you'll need to shoot 4 seconds at f/16 or f/22 at the end.

6. This may a time when you'll actually want to take the filter you have on your lens OFF! Here's why: You have that filter on to protect the lens from scratches and to give you better color balance. But that filter will also increase the chances of lens flare and stray reflections in your shots. So, for the duration of the show, take it off! Use your lens hood as well (if you have one) to reduce lens flare.

7. As for your zoom, use it... but you'll find that the wide angle area of your zoom lens will be better for these shots. If you zoom in too close, you may have trouble knowing exactly when and how wide the firework explosion will be and you'll end up zooming back & forth trying to catch the perfect burst. You'll be able to capture more bursts  in a wide angle shot and even frame them against a skyline or a recognizable landmark.

8.  If any one event is made to be captured in video, this is it! If your camera supports it, take a movie of the fireworks to capture the exciting finale in its entirety. And with the capacity of many cameras filming the video in HD, imagine the cool holiday moments you can perserve for years to come!

9. To make any sort of adjustments in the dark, you'll need a little light,  so use a penlight or the light from your cell phone  in case you need to replace the memory card or battery in the dark. And finally...

10. Try to stay downwind from the fireworks! Fireworks give off a fair amount of smoke, so try to make sure the wind isn’t headed in your direction or the smoke will obscure your view.

Above all, HAVE FUN! Experiment & take lots of pictures. Odds are you'll get one tremendous shot that you'll want share or print up for all to see! Hope this helps. We'll be open both Sunday (7/3) and Monday (4th of July) for any hands-on assistance you may need.

Have a happy & safe holiday!


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