I know I should have posted this a few weeks earlier in time for the annual Pyromusical Competition at the Mall of Asia; unfortunately I was on the road too much and had started this photography series a tad too late. So, with one more week left for this year’s Philippine International Pyromusical Competition, allow me to share the ins and outs of shooting those fires in the sky.
First off, for successfully shooting a fireworks show, you need a sturdy tripod to avoid blurring your photos. A tripod would also help you shoot longer shutter speeds to capture fire trails. A camera remote is a plus, but if you have none, you can just rely on your camera’s shutterspeed setting. Okay, for non-tech camera users, I know this may be a bit complicated, but hang in there. I’ll try to explain the steps in as simple as possible manner.
Another important thing is your position relative to the fireworks, this depends if you want a fireworks only photos or if you want foreground subjects incorporated in your shots. I actually like shooting both but if you want to shoot the fireworks exclusively, be sure to get to the site early and plant your tripod ahead of the competition. I probably don’t have to tell you that the Pyromusical is a big crowd drawer.
Composition-wise, be alert of your surroundings. Know where the fireworks would be coming from and try to incorporate other subjects with it to avoid a boring standard fireworks photograph. Since the Pyromusical is being done at the bay, the reflections from the water is a nice thing to add to your images. And as with the basics of photography, fill your frame with your fiery subject.
Okay, so mount your cameras to your tripods, remove all your camera filters and let’s start.
Set your camera to manual mode (that’s the M on your camera dial) so you can have full control as to how your photos would be taken. Then set your camera’s aperture anywhere from f/8 to f/16, this determines the size of your lens opening. Next would be your shutterspeed, this determines how long your shutter would be open, which you can set from 1 second to 6 seconds. If you have a remote, you can just set your camera to bulb mode and click and unclick at your preferred time, if you have none, you have to change the shutterspeed manually.
For your ISO, set it to the lowest possible value to keep your images free of noise. And lastly for your white balance, have it on tungsten (the one with the lightbulb icon) to preserve the original colors of the fireworks. If you can shoot in RAW, do so, the advantages of further tweaking your colors in RAW format and recovering overexposed highlights outweighs its oversized file size.
If you guys are not familiar on how to set your aperture and shutterspeeds, it’s all on your camera’s manual booklet; it’s no rocket science I promise. Practice changing your aperture and shutterspeed in your room while on manual mode so you won’t panic when it’s actually time to shoot them fireworks.
If you want to capture a combination of fireworks, set your shutterspeed longer (around 4 to 6 seconds or more if you like) but be sure to move your aperture to a higher setting f/11 to f/16 to keep the fireworks from being overexposed, you don’t want to lose the colors of the light streaks. Make sure that you don’t set your shutterspeed too long or you’ll just get a mess of fireworks all over your frame. The one above is at 30 seconds and I was lucky it was not as messed up as I thought it would be.
To capture short bursts of fireworks, which I prefer since they look simpler and more defined, set your shutterspeed to between 1 to 3 seconds and your aperture to f/8 to f/11. Time your shots to the pyrotechnic blooms and you’ll get pretty good results. The one above is set at 1.7 seconds.
A note on your aperture settings, the lower it is (f/2.8 to f/5.6), the fatter the firework trails will look. Vice versa, the higher it is (f/8 to f/16), the thinner the trails would be.
For lenses to use, it is actually a matter of preference. I prefer a wider field of view so I use an 11-16mm ultrawide lens, but for best results, an 18-55mm or an 18-105mm kitlens would be more than adequate, you can zoom out for a full view of the fireworks and you can zoom in if you want to shoot a detailed explosion.
That’s basically the technical side of shooting a pyrotechnic show. It is a bit technical for casual camera users, but it’s really not that hard once you start practicing. But remember though, like all things in photography, the main key is still timing. You may be mister technical and all, but if you don’t have timing, then you might as well be shooting in Auto mode. Happy fireworks shooting everyone!
Additional Tips from my Dear Readers [If you have some more, don’t be shy to share]
Albert Cuino writes:
Sir, this is a helpful post. Would like to add a little about setting the lens to manual (focusing) after getting it to focus on something far, say, the horizon. I find that it really helps in shooting fireworks.
Fireworks Photography demystified. Well said bro. Keep up the good work. If I may add, should you opt to try long manual exposure (example: 15-30 sec.) a quick and easy way to prevent over exposure caused by too many overlapping or combination fireworks is to use a dark baseball cap or a like to cover and un cover your lens. this also allows you to choose which fireworks combination you wish to capture. Enjoy shooting everyone :)