Beginner's Tips to Shooting Fireworks

The 4th of July is right around the corner and after the BBQs are over you’ll most likely be with friends/family checking out the fireworks as they go off. To capture them accurately, you’ll need to know the technical stuff. Here are some quick tips on how to do it.

Gallery

Big thank you to my buddy PJ Jacobowitz, Digital Camera Analyst at PCMag.com for letting me borrow his photos. Why aren’t mine on here you ask? I had a hard drive problem, and it crashed.

I lost a year of work.

Bring the Right Gear

For an event like this, I would bring my

Canon 5D Mk II

– 80-200mm F2.8 L

85mm F1.8

Canon 7D with Sun Sniper strap attached

– Memory Cards

Rode Videomic (in case I wanted to capture some video)

Arrive Early, Secure Your Locations

Ask any photographer or photojournalist: years of experience from shooting packed, large events will teach you to arrive to your location early. The reason for this is so that no one gets in your way while shooting or tries to take your spot during setup. A great tip is to talk to the crews if you can and ask them to suggest the best places to setup your vantage point. Explain to them exactly what you’re going for in your images. There’s always someone that’s interested in photography around, probably try to extract as much info out of them as you can.

Each vantage point will allow you different types of images. Ensure that you’re versatile too in terms of equipment and/or lenses.

Slow Shutter Speed, Closed Aperture, Infinity Focus

This is your best bet to get the images that you want. Shooting around 4-10 seconds long with F11-22 should deliver the quality that you want. To get the cleanest image quality without banding or grain, you may want to go for ISO 100-400. Try to keep the shutter speed that long but you can mess with the aperture a bit.

Keep the flash at home as well, it won’t be doing anything at that range. It’s too far out. So when everyone else around you with a point-and-shoot is using their flashes, quietly chuckle to yourself.

When focusing, use the method of focusing that video professionals use on set: zoom in, focus perfectly on the subject and then zoom out to compose your shot. I’ve taught this method to the Blind Photographers community with great success.

You’ll go home with dreamy, colorful images that will astound people.

Despite having a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and something like a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, I still would shoot at the lowest ISO settings even though the higher ISOs are very clean.

Bring a Tripod

Being a tech journalist/photographer/videographer I can tell you how much your back will hurt from lugging around 30lbs or more of gear from location to location in New York City. I’ve always been one to hate tripods. When shooting slow shutter speed photos it can be worth it.

Here’s the situation: You’re taking long exposures at night. Plus, you’re in an area where you will probably elbow-to-elbow with other people jumping around and sticking their point-and-shoots into the air trying to achieve the same type of image quality that you have but will fail miserably because of camera and motion blur as well as missed focusing. A tripod will ensure that this doesn’t happen.

If you want to switch locations, keep the camera on the tripod and move to your new setup location.

Bring Lots of Memory Cards

This is important. You’ll be shooting lots of long exposure shots and your timing will not always be perfect because of how long each set of fireworks lasts. So bring extra memory cards.

After shooting them, back them up onto a hard drive of some sort and then your website.

Don’t Push Your Camera’s Processor Too Hard

When your camera shoots long exposure images, it takes a while for them to process because of all the information and the noise processing that needs to be done because of the sensor heating up. Take one shot and then wait a little bit to ensure that your batteries don’t die.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.