Picture Perfect Fireworks Photos
With July 4th fireworks not far off, I thought it would be great to share some helpful hints on how to capture the explosive colors of fireworks displays in all their glory.
Fireworks photos can be tricky. Its really best to have a camera that allows for manual control of the settings, but you can also get great results with a point and shoot – and even an iPhone! The following tips have been reprinted from howtowired.com.
If you own a fancy, expensive SLR camera, chances are you know what you’re doing already. But if you don’t shoot at night that often, or if you’ve never photographed fireworks, these tips should offer some guidance.
Use the slow shutter speed.
This will ensure you see bright “trails” in your fireworks pictures as the flaming particles spread out and begin to fall toward the ground, burning light into the image.
Get a tripod.
Leaving the shutter open means that you’ll need to stabilize your camera in order to avoid any motion blur. And taking crisp, long-exposure night shots while trying to hold a heavy SLR steady with your hands is next to impossible. Find a tripod, a monopod or, at the very least, a flat, stable surface to hold your camera perfectly still.
Get a shutter release cable.
These cables — flexible and hollow with a spring-loaded plunger inside — will let you depress the shutter mechanism without having to touch the camera at all, thus reducing any possible blur. (Note that modern DSLRs/SLRs tend to have specialized shutter release cables — the old screw in type doesn’t work.)
Set the ISO to its lowest setting.
This will reduce graininess and noise that can be introduced by higher ISO settings. (See tips below.) With film cameras, C-41 print film has much better dynamic range then slide film, so it’s more forgiving of over/under exposure.
Dial in a low f/stop.
Somewhere between f/8 and f/16 is ideal.
POINT AND SHOOT CAMERA
Find the long exposure setting
Some cameras call this the “night” setting, but on others it’s just a manual exposure setting that lets you keep the shutter open for several seconds at a time by holding the shutter button down. If your camera has that ability, choose that mode. If your camera doesn’t have that feature, choose whatever setting leaves the shutter open the longest.
Lower the ISO
A higher ISO means the camera will pick up more ambient light, and it could introduce extra noise into the photo. Crank the ISO down as low as it goes. If your photos are too dark, bump it up and try again.
Set focus to infinity if your camera allows it. If not, choose the “Landscape” mode, which should set the focus to infinity and lower the shutter speed and ISO. Turn off auto-focus.
Use “Fireworks” mode
Some point-and-shoots have a “Fireworks” mode that sets up the camera for long-exposure night shots automatically. The manufacturer probably knows how the camera works better than you do, so at least give it a try. If you don’t like the results, see if you can tweak the mode’s default settings.
You’ll be holding the shutter open for a few seconds at a time, so it’s critical to have a stable, solid surface to shoot from. Wedge your camera against a wall, the roof of a car, or a concrete pillar to stabilize it. If you camera has a screw-mount for attaching it to a tripod, borrow or invest in a tripod or monopod. Also, a bendable tripod like the Gorilla Pod is a nice option because you can use one to mount the camera on objects like signposts, trees and fences.
Set a timer
If your camera lets you shoot a photo after counting down on a five-second or ten-second timer, give that a try. You can set up the shot, stabilize your camera, then fire off the timer and step away. This will ensure you won’t accidentally bump or shake the camera while the shutter is open.
Turn off the flash
There’s no reason at all to use a flash to capture fireworks. Switch it off.
The most recent generations of mobile phones are all capable of taking decent fireworks shots. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. The quality of lenses, sensors and speed varies widely on mobiles, but the tips listed here can apply no matter which model of phone you own.
The fireworks will look like tiny bursts of light on the distant, pixelated horizon unless you get as close as possible. Directly beneath them is ideal. If it’s a large display over a lake, a parking lot or a field, chances are the local fire department has set up a ring of barriers to keep spectators at a safe distance. Head straight for the barriers and plant yourself up against them.
Clear off a large chunk of space on your phone before you shoot, then shoot as many pictures as possible. If you’re using an iPhone, you probably know that it has a considerable amount of shutter lag. With a little practice, you’ll quickly learn how to time your finger taps to capture the first, bright burst of the explosions. Those will be your best photos.
Dig the Sweep
The iPhone’s camera doesn’t have a physical shutter. Rather, it has a CMOS sensor that employs a technique called photon gating — light is passed through the lens in a sweeping motion, so some parts of the image are recorded before others, much like with a scanner. The iPhone’s CMOS scanner is slower than CMOSs sensor on point-and-shoot cameras. Therefore, as the camera is recording the image, any changes over that small but significant amount of time are recorded. The result is oddly — and often artistically — blurred, smeared and distorted photos. If you have a newer iPhone 4, the camera is much improved and performs better in low light than the earlier models, so your photos will be less distorted. (I took this photo in Positano, Italy)
Twist and Shake
Here’s another iPhone tip. Twisting the iPhone with your wrist while the shutter is doing its thing will add some extra distorted, blurry magic to your photos. This gives the pictures a sense of kinetic energy that can produce attractive results.
Happy shooting and happy 4th of July!