If you are going out this 4th of July to watch the fireworks in Dallas, make sure that you bring your camera! No matter what kind of camera you own or your level of photographic knowledge, you can capture stunning fireworks this 4th of July! It's fireworks time!
Capturing fireworks is easy if you plan in advance and bring the right camera gear. Here are some advice to help you take great fireworks photos.
What you need:
A Camera that gives you control over exposure. Some point-and-shoot cameras have a "Fireworks" mode, so look for that if you have a compact camera. Ideally your camera should have both shutter and aperture controls. Most compact cameras have some form of manual override of the auto settings. For smart phone owners: Getting good-quality images of fireworks with your smart phone camera is very hard, unless you have a manual control option in the menu! Use a wide angle lens zoom setting to get as much of the scene as possible.
A Tripod. Handheld fireworks photos simply don't work well because the most effective fireworks photos are shot using long exposures, and it's very hard to keep your camera still for the one or several second exposure you will likely need. The image will be out of focus and the fireworks lines will like not be straight and most likely detract from the beauty of the blasts, but if you don't have a tripod go ahead anyway and shoot and you might get some interesting shots anyway. To eliminate camera shake, the camera must be mounted on a stable a tripod.
Water bodies are a great way to add an extra dimension to your fireworks photos, and if the fireworks are being launched on the water, you'll be able to see the rockets streaking skyward and smoke below, which adds another element of interest.
Where to Stand? Before the fireworks start, find out where the fireworks will be taking place, and scout the area. Look for an unobstructed view of the sky, upwind of the action. Make sure there are no buildings or trees in the way. Try to find an elevated position so you don't have the heads of the people in front of you in the shot. Why upwind? You don't want the smoke blowing towards you because it can block the view–and your don't want to smell it either? An even better option is an unobstructed view at the water. A body of water can result in interesting reflections of the fireworks, or even better an unobstructed view with a landmark by the water. Fireworks blazing against the profile of a well-known building or natural landmark can add a new dimension and interest to your image.
Camera Settings: Choose a small aperture and the lowest ISO setting available so you can get the longest exposure possible. Usually 1/2 to 2 seconds of expesore are enough, try different exposures untill you get a result that you are happy with. If your camera has auto bracketing, use the feature! Most photographers use ISO 100 or 200 and an aperture of between f/8 and f/16. The smaller aperture intensifies the colors of the fireworks and prevents overexposure. Experiment and see how the different aperture setting changes the look of your image. Shutter speed: Use your camera's "B" (bulb) setting. Start your exposure at the moment the burst begins, and end it when the burst reaches its peak. How long is long enough? For a single blast, a second or two should be enough. Some photographers leave their camera on B and block the lens opening until there's a burst, and repeates the exposures over several fireworks bursts. This results in a multiple exposure that can fill the frame with several fireworks.
Color Balance: Daylight color balance usually works fine, but if you have lit buildings you should set color balance based on how they are lit.
Reducing Noise: If your camera has a noise reduction feature, use it. The long exposures are bound to overheat the image sensor, which results in digital artifacts ("noise") that look a bit like colored grains in your photograph. The black sky will look grainy or worse. There is also software and there are techniques for reducing grain in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom—but that's another blog post.
What about auto-everything cameras, like most camera phones? If your camera lacks manual settings, you can still get pretty good fireworks shots. Set it to landscape mode so it focuses on infinity. Disable the flash. Start the exposure before a blast if possible and the lens aperture will remain open longer. To reduce lag time (the delay between when you press the shutter release and the camera takes the picture), keep your finger on the shutter release, pressing it halfway down.
Now you can go out tonight or on your on your next fireworks celebration, blast away and have fun taking terrific fireworks photos!