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So…the 4th of July has come and gone again, and I worked on capturing good shots of fireworks…again.  It’s a lot harder than I thought.  However, this year, I read through several articles before I headed out with my camera to see what I could capture.

The first article I read was called How To Photograph Fireworks by Darren Rowse on the Digital Photography School website.  I decided that I’d had enough blurry images of fireworks.  It was time to try something new.  Here are the tips he recommends you think about while photographing fireworks…

  • Use a Tripod
  • Use a Remote Release
  • Frame Your Shot
  • Choose the best Focal Length
  • Select the right Aperture
  • Get your Shutter Speed Right
  • Set your ISO
  • Switch off your Flash
  • Shoot in Manual Mode
  • Experiment and Track Results

Okay…easy enough, right?  I grabbed my camera and my tripod and packed the car to head out to the fireworks.  We already had our place staked out – same place we go every year.  We park the car, spread out a picnic blanket, set up our chairs and wait for the show to start.  I decided to put my Canon EF 24-70 L Series Lens on my camera – I wanted to be able to see some of the buildings and people in the pictures instead of just the fireworks.  I had my Canon EF 70-200 Zoom Lens also (just in case).  Too bad I wasn’t near a lake – the reflections of fireworks always look so pretty.

I got the kids all settled in their chairs and on the blanket, and set my camera up on my Manfrotto Tripod (best tripod ever) and got all my settings set up so I’d be ready.  I don’t normally shoot in Manual mode, but for this event, I thought I’d give it a try.  One piece of advice – bring a flashlight so you can see your camera buttons – it was pitch black outside, and I could barely see my hand in front of my face.  Much less the dials on my camera.  So…my husband was on iPhone flashlight duty for most of the night!

Another comparison - the picture on the left is from last year. The one of the right is from this year. Not bad for a beginner...

Here’s a comparison of pictures from last year and this year – the picture on the left is from last year. The one on the right is from this year.  The difference in detail is amazing.  The jagged lines in the second one look fake!  Not bad for a beginner…

I think this is something that will take a few years to figure out – since fireworks aren’t something I can photograph on a regular basis like baseball and soccer games!  For me, this only happens once a year.  I guess I could get my husband to shoot some fireworks off in the backyard, and we could just tell the police that it’s all for my blog post.  Surely they’d understand, right?  But…if I had to go bail him out, that would completely mess up my picture schedule…  So…for now, I’ll just keep trying to get good shots of the fireworks every 4th of July and continue to read good articles with helpful hints.

I was pretty impressed with some of the pictures I was able to get.  Especially when I compared them to last year’s photos!  Last year the camera settings were the following:

  • Canon EF 24-70 Lens f/2.8
  • ISO 1600
  • Focal Length about 35mm
  • F stop 2.8
  • Camera was on Auto Exposure – fell anywhere from 1/50 – 1/200

This year, after reading a couple of articles very quickly before I set out, the camera settings were the following:

  • Canon EF 24-70 Lens f/2.8
  • ISO 100
  • Shutter Speed was set at about 3.2 seconds
  • Camera was on my Manfrotto Tripod
  • Shot in Manual Mode

The last bullet point above should’ve been that I had my Strato Trigger Set attached to avoid shaking the camera when pushing the button.  But guess who forgot to pack it??  Me!  I spent the entire night sitting next to my camera pressing the shutter button every few seconds – I could not believe I forgot my remote!  Learn from my mistake – I missed several shots, so don’t forget yours!!  Even though my camera was set up on the tripod, there were times that I bumped the legs as I sat back down, or bumped the camera right after pressing the shutter button.  Ugh…

Not so terrible (at least I remembered the camera and the tripod), but make yourself a checklist so you don’t forget yours.  With the shutter speed set at about 3 seconds, there was a lot of time for things to wiggle (or get bumped) and blur the photo.

Photographing Fireworks

Another comparison picture…  The picture on the left was taken last year. The picture on the right was taken this year. I love how crisp the second picture is!!  The only thing that would make me happier is if I had been near a lake and captured the reflections of the fireworks on the water.

Another great article I read is called How to Photograph Fireworks Like a Pro that I saw on the PicMonkey website.  It also had a lot of helpful information.  There was one paragraph in particular that stuck with me from this article:  A Tungsten (around 3000 K) white balance is best. You’re shooting at night, or close to it, and since fireworks are explosions, your colors are going to be on the warm side. Tungsten will make sure that these warm colors are being, well, balanced. If you think the fireworks look too warm in your photos, dial it down a bit and try again. Consider an automatic setting your last resort.  Tip: If you don’t get it quite right, you can always adjust the color temperature in PicMonkey.

I really never considered adjusting the white balance to Tungsten!  I almost always leave my white balance on auto – I’ve messed up quite a few pictures changing it.  Probably because I don’t know a lot about white balance, so auto works best for me.  Most pictures can be slightly adjusted in Lightroom (or whatever your favorite program is) after you take the shot!  Next year, I’ll have to give Tungsten a try…

Check out the collage of pictures below…  It’s the same picture, except for the fact that I changed the White Balance in Lightroom on each one.  The first image is “As Shot” – no changes.  That’s what came out of my camera with White Balance on Auto.  After reading the article on PicMonkey, I thought I’d see how big a difference the White Balance makes when you adjust it in your editing program.  Not a major difference , but I prefer the first picture.  Which one do you prefer?  Do you mess around with White Balance, or are you like me using Auto Mode for that?

Photographing Fireworks

First image = As Shot / Second Image = Tungsten / Third Image = Fluorescent

So there you have it.  My experience photographing fireworks!  I had a great time learning from my mistakes, and learning some new tricks to try out.  My pictures are much better this year than they were last year.  I can imagine that in 5 years, they will be even better still.  Hoping to be somewhere near water next time so I can see what I can do with a beautiful fireworks reflection shot!

Photographing Fireworks

One of my favorite shots from the night. If I hadn’t taken it myself, I would think it was totally fake!!! Only cropped it and changed the clarity level in Lightroom! Amazing colors, right??

I guess for now, I’ll focus on sports and kids.  That’s what my world is all about for the moment.  But come July, you better believe I’ll be reading up on photographing fireworks again.  Good luck with your pictures.  As always, please share you experiences with me.  Until next time…