Photographing fireworks.

Most photography books seem to have a section on how to photograph fireworks, I guess it’s up there with photographing the moon (To capture the details on the moon use 1/125 @ f11 & ISO100 w. daylight WB – it’s normal daylight on the moon) – Anyhow, Fireworks, I’ve only bothered to go out and photograph fireworks the once, I was using a canon Powershot G6 with a mini tripod, it’s pretty easy with nearly any camera if you have a manual mode. (I’d forgotten all about that camera till I looked at the Exif)

This is Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia – they have a fireworks show at least once a week, usually more. They put on a pretty decent show.


See, Easy!

Actually while it is easy, it tends to take a bunch of test shots, so arrive early.

The basic idea is to get an exposure which will pick out details in the background whilst still being acceptable for the fireworks – I settled on 5 seconds at f8 – I wouldn’t have a clue what my ISO was, but the above details would determine it (f5.6 would have been better for a digital camera).


This one was poorly framed, I had worked out how to get a five second exposure. So the background was ok, but it was dark enough that I didn’t see the outside pontoons. So I had the chance to correct.

(shutter speed is the important part of this project – you need enough time for stuff to happen).


This one was way too late, or more to the point, the next firework didn’t arrive when I expected it. Poor anticipation really.


Too Early – I was trying to get a clean black sky – so I pressed the shutter button when there was nothing there, the next pop was anemic and hardly registered –  just as the shutter closed a bright one went off.


Ah… Well, I maybe should have reduced my exposure during this section.


Basically This is what you can do with a glorified point n shoot which is more than a decade old – so any DSLR made in the last ten years should out perform it effortlessly – Basically keep the ISO low, the shutter speed out around 5 seconds, and use a tripod.

As a side note – I went well early so I had a good spot – in fact I went about two hours early, so I and about three people had basically the best spot by a rail up where nothing could get in our way, nice friendly people. The woman next to me asked my exposure details as I was already set up (in fact I’d duct taped my mini tripod to a hand rail). Predictably enough – about quarter of an hour before the fireworks started we had a series of people with massive cameras and massive lenses, vests, the whole nine yards of photographic cliché’s turn up and try to order us to move.

The first guy with a Canon 5d2 and a 70-200 L Series, battery grip, flash, a massive tripod which he had open as he walked through the crowd (don’t do that unless you want to get punched in the face by someone’s husband). In short, this guy had $6-7k worth of totally inappropriate gear for the task at hand. And then he walked up to me and told me to move because he was there to photograph the fireworks.

Short version I told him to go away and change his lens to something appropriate. He got quite huffy and mouthed off about my camera, but left when the woman next to me turned around and told him that if he didn’t fold up his tripod and f@*k off he’d need a proctologist to retrieve his camera (words to that effect, more consonants, less syllables). She and the others around me had similar suggestions for the next several people who did the same thing.

After that we kept chatting. She told me that she had a couple of Canon G series cameras she used when she was on assignment and was worried about breaking gear, and she quite liked my duct tape tripod arrangement. Turned out that the people around me who had turned up early to the best spot, wearing normal clothes, and with basic camera kits were actually pro photographers, they all knew each other, and not one of them was judging my gear. The Canon G6 is definitely good enough for online or newspaper publishing.

Moral of the story, it’s not the gear that takes the photo… Oh, and don’t be a dick.

(Oh, and if you crack a whole bunch of Aussies in the shins with your tripod they’re probably gonna tell you what you can do with yourself in fairly precise anatomical detail).


Depth of field or boke

This is something I see commented upon a great deal – Many people refer to boke, or bokeh, boʊkɛ… Whatever.

The Japanese word boke (ボケ) means something along the lines of blur/haze/fuzz – but it’s the quality of the blur which is being commented upon, not the fact that it’s there. All lenses do boke. Well, any lens which you can focus at any rate, with a few disclaimers.

Heres a few tips;

1. The larger the sensor the more pronounced the out of focus blur will be

2. The longer the lens the more pronounced the out of focus blur will be

3. The converse to both of the above statements is true

4. None of this will automatically dictate the quality of the boke – or what the blur feels like – that’s more of a judgement call and a matter of finding out what a camera is good for (that is to say – it’s a matter of taste and highly personal).


I love Holga’s for this – I tend to drill out the aperture plate to about f6 and modify the lens to focus closer 50cm so as I can get shots like this. The joys of 6x6cm frames, even fairly moderate apertures give nice depth of field on larger format cameras when you get nice and close.


This is a shot which would have been vastly improved by my limiting my depth of field – This was at 55mm and 5.6, which I had no choice about, it was a reaction shot – the magpie just popped in to ask me if I had any spare food going to waste – it didn’t stick around too long – At f11 the buildings in the background would have been sharp, which would be even more distracting – at 2.8 they would have been blurry and disappeared to a greater extent – At 5.6 they’re not too intrusive.

As an aside, for some reason a lot of magpies in Australia really seemed to like me, I don’t know if it was because I sat still or what – they’d just drop what they were doing and come and visit me, they’d go through my pockets if I let them – They wouldn’t go near other people, even if offered food, Crows seemed to be fascinated by me too (the fascination was mutual). I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t hornets.



Those two shots I just focused on something close and then recomposed – the first one is with a K10d (Brisbane city just after sunset – same view as the magpie shot above) – the second is with a mobile phone (no idea where) (and rather noisy now I look at it large)




These two (obviously taken at the same time) were taken in my mums lounge, the paint on the wall is a warm mint sort of colour (quite a nice colour actually) – one had shadow behind hence the change in background colour.


You can use a supplementary lens to achieve this sort of effect – this is a wide adapter for a mobile phone shoehorned onto a point n shoot which has been modified to see infrared. It’s kinda boke… Sorta.


Pro tip – hold a bit of plastic in front of the lens to get interesting lens flare – Sorta boke, infrared with a really nasty lens – nothing was actually in focus, so it’s hard to judge the ‘out of focus quality’.


Pinhole photos have infinite depth of field, but they’re typically blurry, it’s just physics, sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. As an aside, I just now finally saw the rabbit that people commented on years ago (10 years now I think of it – I wonder what they’re up to).


Digi infrared, a poked lens, and taking a snap out of a car window at 100kph – Technically awful, but I do like this shot.


This has blur as an integral part of the shot, but it’s not properly a boke shot as such – In the background is a row of trees and a park, but all I wanted was a nice mid tone to make the spider web on the window 30cm away pop. Taken with a Canon 760d with an 18-135 kit lens at 135mm & 5.6.


Classic boke shot – even got the cherry blossoms. Panasonic GX1 with a 25mm 1.4 cctv lens, probably at something more like f2 to control the backlighting, the boke is a bit squirrely, but that’s not a bad thing Smile – the branch is at about 30cm and the tree is maybe 1.5m away.


The opposite – smaller aperture for depth of field – I wanted depth of field here so I stopped down and focused out a bit. This is taken just out of Alice Springs in central Australia on a rare rainy day. It’s normally a very very arid landscape. Pentax K10d 18mm f6.3


Big head little car – Small aperture, large depth of field. – Oh, that’s Richmond in QLD Australia – Dinosaur capital of Australia – they have fantastic dino head rubbish bins and a waterskiing lake (which is pretty odd given it’s the Aussie outback and thus dry as f^*k).