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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Photograph Fireworks - 6/29/09

Lindsay Miller Published in Tip Of The Week
How to Photograph Fireworks - 6/29/09

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Independence Day is right around the corner, and that means picnics and parties across the country. It also means photographers from coast to coast will be heading out after dark with one thing in mind—shooting fireworks. Armed with a few key tips, fireworks photography can be a blast.

- Any time you’re shooting after dark, a tripod and cable release are a necessity—which means an SLR is too. That’s equally true for fireworks photography. But if you’re at a family get-together or on vacation, you may not have planned ahead. That’s when skills with a balled up backpack and a camera’s self-timer come in handy. Prop the camera wherever you can to hold it still for the duration of the exposure, and use the self-timer to trip the shutter for hands-free vibration protection.

- There will be a breeze, and that breeze will determine in which direction the eventual smoke cloud will form. Plan ahead and the smoke will blow downwind and out of your frame. Shoot early and often, too, when the skies are still uncluttered. Take your chances or get there late, though, and you could end up with shots of smoky skies and a few faint fireworks in the background.

- When photographing fireworks, don’t get tricked into thinking only about the fireworks. The real key, what makes your fireworks photographs something special, is actually all about the background. Are you in Washington D.C. where monuments frame your view? Or perhaps your vista is a rural one that lends itself more to a landscape accented by fireworks. Either way, don’t forget that the real interest comes when you incorporate an interesting background as a frame of reference.

- Along those same lines, look for reflections, silhouettes and other elements that can make the image more interesting. Anything you add to the scene provides perspective and a frame of reference too—and that always helps the viewer to understand exactly what they’re looking at.

- It’s not always possible to change your perspective when photographing fireworks, but if you have the opportunity, take it! If that means getting off the ground and onto a rooftop perch, or simply shooting from a high-rise hotel room window, the added interest of an elevated vantage point can be invaluable for framing the fireworks with an interesting landscape.

- Instead of trying multiple exposures to composite in the computer, try to get multiple bursts in a single exposure. Many photographers suggest leaving the lens open for a long period of time and simply covering it between fireworks with a black cloth or card. (Be careful not to bump the camera, though.) Too many bursts in a single frame can get busy and distracting. Thankfully the LCD on a digital camera allows you to make adjustments as you go.

- Don’t try to focus every shot, and don’t try to focus after dark. If possible, compose your shots while it’s light outside and set your lens to manual focus to maintain constant sharpness. Focus on infinity if the fireworks will be that far away, or choose an item within the scene—like a building or silhouetted crowd—to use as your point of focus.

- Experiment with your exposure, because it can vary a lot depending on the ambient light. Overexposure can blow out the color, and underexposure leaves the fireworks thin and lifeless. Start with a mid-range aperture, say f/8 to f/16, and explore appropriate exposures from one second to several seconds long. The bulb setting and a black card can be flexible and ideal—especially if you’ve got a stopwatch so that you can time and repeat successful exposures.

- Last but not least, don’t forget the basics. Set your camera on the lowest ISO possible to minimize high-ISO noise and maximize blur-enhancing shutter speeds. Don’t use an on-camera flash—unless you’re doing it deliberately to illuminate a foreground subject. And don’t forget to turn off the autofocus and turn the camera to the settings you want before it gets too dark to see. (And, just to be safe, bring a flashlight too!)
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