Location is everything.
Arrive at the venue well before dark to be sure there are no trees in your way. If you’re sitting on the grass, take the higher ground so those who arrive after you do not block your view.
Bring a tripod.Set your camera’s ISO to 400.
If toting a tripod is inconvenient, bring a monopod. The tripod is the only accessory which can improve EVERY image you capture.
Keep in mind high ISO settings and undesirable image noise go together, so be prepared to deal with that later on. Experiment with ISO settings of 800 and 200, and other ISO settings, too.
Turn the camera’s built-in flash OFF.
This setting is generally indicated by the circle-slash-lighting bolt icon. You may want to try a shot or two using the Night Portrait flash setting if there are people in the shot. Try it at least once.
Set the camera on manual and the f/stop to the largest setting
(remember, that’s the smallest number, like f2.8 or f3.5).
Set the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second for starters. Later you’ll shoot at 1/30, and 1/15 settings until you find the right combination. If you’re quick you can shoot two or three shots of each burst of fireworks, and if you’re really quick you can change shutter speeds on the fly. Use the LCD monitor to judge whether or not you’ve achieved proper exposure. When you do, continue to shoot at that combination. Fireworks are much brighter than you think. So, err on the side of under exposure and you’ll probably be right.
No manual settings? Then you’ll have to shoot on Auto. The only way you can adjust the camera is by increasing and decreasing the ISO setting. If your camera selects a shutter speed that’s too long (like one-half second) your image will be a
white-ish mess of streaks. Begin with the highest possible ISO setting and work your way down.
No need for autofocus here.
If your camera has Manual Focus, Landscape Mode or forced Infinity Focus setting, you’re in luck. If not, you’ll probably still be okay, but you may lose some time while the autofocus servo motors scoot the lens in and out, looking for somewhere to lock focus. They usually default to infinity, but you could miss a shot or two.
All photography requires a good sense of timing.
Anticipate the flash point and trip the shutter so it’s open during the peak brilliance of the explosion. Light travels faster than sound, so you’ll see the flash before you hear it.
Use your infrared remote release, which allows you to trigger the camera without touching it. Touching the camera, even when it’s on a tripod, transfers movement which can reduce sharpness in the picture. If you must press the shutter release button by hand, do it ever so gently.
If you’re lucky enough to be watching fireworks launched over water, include some reflections. If at a baseball stadium, catch part of the scoreboard to add a sense of venue.
Fireworks are small explosions.
Fireworks burn on their way to the ground and leave a trail of sparks and smoke. Because they are in freefall, they move at the whim of prevailing winds. Watch which way the wind is blowing, and if practical, have the wind at your back. It will blow the debris away from your view and you’ll get better results.
- Don’t set your camera down on the ground (as in wet grass) or it may become damaged.
- Since you’ll be running the LCD monitor continuously for up to thirty minutes, bring a spare battery if you have one. Buy a spare battery if you do not.
- The high ISO settings will cause image noise to appear in your otherwise perfect pictures. This can be removed in post-processing.
- Bring a small flashlight.
Many times the end of the performance is signaled by a rapid fire barrage of white concussion rockets. Although they’re not at all colorful, they still make interesting pictures—especially because they illuminate so much of the ground below them..
Prepared by Take Great Pictures. Senior Writer Jon Sienkiewicz.