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.
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).