Independence Day means parades, barbecues, road trips, beach activities and of course, fireworks. When you look at this sparkling miracle in the sky, your hand automatically reaches your camera trying to snap the magic. However, it rarely works well and we end up with blurry images of something that is not even remotely close to the magic we were witnessing for the whole night. In order to snap perfect fireworks photos, check out our tips; in order to save the sparkling memories forever and to show off your outstanding photography skills – get a photo book with your Independence Day pictures!
There is definitely something magical in the process of firing something in the air and blowing things up. Fireworks were around since the very first 4th of July in 1777: they were made of black ash and were shot off in order to celebrate the American independence. Photographing fireworks is challenging: you are shooting in the dark, the subject keeps moving and disappearing, a perfect location is tricky to find. But it’s not impossible: try these tips on July 4th to end up with amazing fireworks snaps that look in print as good as they look in person.
1. Find the right place.
Location is important: fireworks against a black sky are colorful but not so exciting. Try to find a place with an interesting background: buildings, trees, monuments, people or anything else that will liven up your photographs, but make sure that the objects don’t block the view. Arrive at the location several hours prior to the fireworks show, otherwise, the best spots will be taken. Shoot in the beginning of the show to avoid smoke that will appear in the sky later.
Get the right equipment.
Tripod is a must. Fireworks require a long exposure and the tripod has to hold your camera steady – that’s why you need a good one: strong, solid, sturdy. If you are shooting a scene that includes not just the sky but also other elements (landmarks, people, etc.), it’s important to keep the horizon line straight. Make sure your camera is level on the tripod. Bring several memory cards and extra battery as long exposures tend to use them up quickly. A good idea would also be to bring a small flashlight – it’s going to be dark when you decide to change your camera settings.
3. Set your ISO low.
Drop your ISO to between 50, and 200, because the higher ISO is, the more your camera is sensitive to light. Normally that means that you would want to use higher ISO in dark settings, but now you are shooting long exposures, and they tend to increase noise which you don’t want to have in your photograph. An ISO setting of 100 is a good bet. If your camera has noise reduction, turn it on.
4. Use a slow shutter speed.
Basically, at any given moment, fireworks are just a bunch of bright lights in the sky. Their quick motion illuminates light trails and creates beautiful patterns – that’s what our eyes can see but cameras can’t. In order to give your camera a chance to record these patterns, you need to pick a slow exposure, anywhere between 1-15 seconds. With long exposure, more lines will appear and the longer they will look.
5. Focus to infinity.
Normally, you observe the fireworks from far away, and in order to capture them clearly, set your camera focus to infinity and use an aperture of f/8 to f/16 to keep thing fairly sharp. If the photos are looking too dim, vary the shutter speed while keeping the aperture the same.
6. Turn your flash off.
Your flash is not powerful enough to reach fireworks, so you don’t really need it. But even if it was, there lighting the fireworks is the exact opposite that you would want to do when photographing them.
7. Use the self-timer.
You will need to set your self-timer to the shortest duration possible in order to make the shots sharper. Even with your camera on a tripod, you cause small vibrations just by clicking the shutter, resulting in a less sharp photo.
8. Use Fireworks settings.
Many cameras have a mode designed specifically for fireworks. If you don’t want to trouble with the manual mode, try to turn on the scene mode for fireworks and make several shots – they might be pretty decent.
Take a lot of pictures, try different settings, be creative and have fun. As always, it’s not just about the result, it’s also about the process!
10. Collect your beautiful snaps in a photo book!
You did an amazing job making all those incredible shots of fireworks – would be a shame to let them stock up on your hard drive. Show off your photography skills and print your pictures out in a beautiful photo book of your masterpieces.