Getting a great shot of a firework is not just about the gear you’ve got. Here are 10 tips on what else you need to think about to become a master firework photographer!
Beyond cameras and films, what else do you need to consider if you want to get some nice shots at the next firework display?
1. Location = Composition
Make sure you find a good location and set up your equipment before the show begins. Close-up shots can give a dynamic explosive look, or you may choose to frame the fireworks with foreground or landscape.
This photograph takes in a night sky lit by the fireworks, set off beautifully by the silhouetted landscape and mirror reflection on the water:
This colourful photo has an unusual foreground for a firework shot, injecting the scene with energy:
Public firework displays usually last about 10 to 15 minutes, so if you are well prepared, you are less likely to miss the action. It’s a good idea to find out the duration of the display beforehand so you can pace your shoot.
The burst and intensity of fireworks can be unpredictable, but before you get into photographing them, watch a few initial ones go off first to judge the likely height and approximate composition of the next ones that will follow.
Remember that a firework display is like a theatrical show, so there will probably be a prelude (perhaps with smaller, fewer fireworks, which burst at lower height), increasing in tempo (larger fireworks with more individual impact, reaching higher in the sky, more frequent bursts), concluding in a finale (more than one fireworks bursting at the same time, different types of fireworks that complement each other and/or give group impact). So make sure you don’t run out of films before the end!
5. Be quick!
Once the succession of fireworks get going, you can shoot through a roll of film quite quickly. From past experience, I think it is a good idea to load up more than one cameras (if you have) with film, so you don’t waste time winding and changing film rolls while that beautiful lightshow is unfolding right before your eyes. Having a tripod with interchangeable tripod plates also helps; it lets you swap cameras even quicker.
6. Ready to catch the action
If you are using a cable release, you may keep the tripod head just lightly locked in, so it is ready to be repositioned quickly if needed.
If you are using a tripod with a panning tripod head, you can try a pan shot by following the trajectory of the firework in the viewfinder as it ascends the sky. Lock the tripod head as soon as the firework begins to burst open.
8. Close the shutter!
As a firework display gets going and the fireworks are bursting quickly one after another, it is tempting to want to keep the shutter open so you don’t miss any of them. Stay away from that temptation and close the shutter! Otherwise your photo will just become overloaded with light and overexposed. After about 5 seconds or so, close the shutter and move onto the next frame.
A lesson learned! An example of a very over exposed shot… I was so mesmerised by the fireworks, I left the shutter open for too long and the image turned out almost completely white:
9. Air quality
Remember that the duration of the display affects the quality of the atmosphere. The longer a firework display goes on, the larger amount of smoke and particles there will be hanging in the air. If you are after a crisp shot with a clean black background, you may be more likely to capture it at the beginning of a display.
An example of a firework photograph with a crisp black background:
By contrast, the photo below was likely to have been taken towards the end of a display, because it shows lots of fireworks going off at the same time, with a smokey atmosphere.
10. Bring a torch
You will be on a night shoot, so it is really useful to have a small torch handy (preferably tied to a string and worn around your neck) when you are searching for the right settings on your camera, or for distinguishing between different rolls of films inside your bag, etc. And when the fireworks are over, you can always use it to do some light painting before you pack up!
Do you have any experiences in on-location shoot for fireworks? Your comments are welcome!
Interested in knowing more? This article is part of a three-part ‘masterclass’ on photographing fireworks. The other articles: