Due to their unpredictable nature, fireworks can be a challenge to photograph. But with the right techniques, one can take home a lasting photo of its split-second grandeur. Prepare yourself for the coming New Year's Day celebration with this easy guide on shooting fireworks on film!
Bulb Mode, Low ISO, Small Aperture
Think of this mantra when choosing the camera and films that you'll bring. Cameras with bulb mode and apertures of f/8 or narrower are highly recommended. For film, ISO 50-200 are often used to avoid overexposure and grainy shots. In general, here are the commonly used settings when taking photographs of fireworks:
ISO 50 - f/5.6
ISO 100 - f/8
ISO 200 - f/11
ISO 400 - f/16
ISO 800 - f/22
Shutter speed will mainly depend on the brightness and frequency of the fireworks. The level of a firework's brightness depends on its color: Blue is usually the dimmest, while green-colored ones shine the brightest with the warmer reds and oranges in between.
Once you see the fireworks flying up the sky, press the shutter and keep it open long enough for the big burst of light to emerge and fade. Then, move on to the next frame. Fireworks burst in rapid succession so it's important to be quick but mindful of how long the shutter is open. While it's tempting to capture them all at once with a longer shutter speed, doing so will lead to overexposure.
Keep it Steady
It's necessary to keep the shutter open for five seconds longer to capture the beautiful burst of colors. If you're one of the lucky ones who can stand still for this amount of time when taking photographs, then proceed to the next tip! Otherwise, bring a tripod (or find a stable surface to place your camera on!) and cable release on your New Year's Day shoot. This is non-negotiable if you want sharp snapshots.
Frame and Focus
Setting the camera's focus to infinity is a safe way to ensure that streaks of light will be in focus. You can also choose to wait for the first fireworks to burst, quickly look into the viewfinder and adjust the focus accordingly.
There's no guarantee where the exact spot of the fireworks would be, so it'll be best to watch the first ones go off without photographing them to gauge the height of the next firework. To spice things up, try to include recognizable structures or even the people watching within the frame. If the firework show is happening near a body of water, use the reflection to create an interesting composition.
Be aware of the air quality, too. The longer the fireworks display is, the more dust particles and smoke are produced, making the sky look cloudy. If you're aiming to capture fireworks against a dark sky, the beginning of the show offers the best opportunity.
Other Creative Tips To Try
- Aim for a more intimate fireworks shoot using sparklers to light up portraiture. Check out this detailed instruction by @lomo-camkage.
- Turn fireworks into flowers by purposely keeping them out-of-focus, just like what David Johnson, as shared by lomographer @blablabla-anab, did in these otherworldly photographs.
- Keep things playful with multiple exposure. It's easier to fill in the pitch dark sky in the backgrounds with a second shot of smiling faces, dainty textures, party scenes ---basically whatever subject you desire!
Do you have any tried-and-tested tips on shooting fireworks? Share them in the comments section below!