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The Fourth of July is right around the corner amateur as well as professional photographers will have cameras ready to capture exploding fireworks. All skill levels of photographers should be able to catch a few patriotic pyrotechnics as they burst in the hot summer sky. Here are a few tips to help you get started on fireworks photos.
Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock
Find a firework display that the location will allow you to include background elements such as buildings, trees, bridges or people. I love colorful exploding fireworks against a black sky, and I frequently make that my subject. But the real show-stoppers are fireworks filling the sky against a recognizable feature.
Get to your destination early to permit you to get the lay of the land. Look for an elevated position with an unobstructed view. If you have a few Photoshop abilities layering in multiple fireworks images into one image is quite a prize winner. If you layer in firework shots, grab a blank sky image as a background.
For optimum results, use a tripod. The camera will need to be rock steady to ensure that the firework explosions are in focus. A remote release is also helpful to ensure that the camera is completely still during a firework shot. If a remote is not available or if you don’t want to invest in another piece of equipment, then use the camera self-timer.
A tip for getting just one full firework burst, the camera must be on a tripod and a remote release. Set the camera on the bulb setting (b) on the menu dial. Hold a piece of black cardboard about four inches away from the front of the lens. When you hear the firework go off, (listen for a thumping sound and a whistling sound), open the shutter with the remote and remove the black cardboard from in front of the lens. When the cardboard is removed, the exposure will start. At the end of the fireworks burst, place the black cardboard back in front of the lens and close the shutter with the release. Multiple bursts can be obtained in the same way but take care not to leave the shutter open for too long, or the shot will be overexposed. Practice this technique before the night of the show to ensure that you can remove and replace the black cardboard without shaking the camera.
Turn off the auto flash. The flash will not affect fireworks that are far away from the camera.
Use the manual camera mode. Yes, you can use manual mode! Again, practice using this mode before the big night. Using manual mode will let you adjust settings as needed. Shutter speed is not as important as aperture if you are using the bulb setting because the opening and closing of the lens can be controlled with the remote release. Set the aperture to f/8 and work up to f/11 or f/16 if shots are overexposed. Set the ISO to 100 to 200.
Focus at night is always difficult, but here is a way to use autofocus to increase the chance of your shots being perfectly focused. At dusk, while there is still enough light for the camera to autofocus, put the camera into the autofocus mode. Then pick an object that is at least 30 feet away and depress your camera shutter button halfway to get a focus. After you hear a beep or other signals that your camera is in focus, turn off your camera to manual focus. Try hard not to touch the focus ring again. If you accidentally do, then repeat the procedure using a bright light 30 feet away.
Fireworks photos are a little tricky at first, but with a bit of practice, you can capture a beautiful image of star sparkling, rocket pounding, red, white and blue pyrotechnic brilliance.
If you are interested in more about celebrating the colors of the Fourth of July, check out my July article in the 501 Life Magazine. It is available in many locations within Central Arkansas.
And don’t forget to submit your favorite captures for consideration of our Photo of the Week.
All photos courtesy of Linda Henderson.
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