There are two ways of photographing fireworks: with a time exposure, and with an instantaneous exposure.
If the camera is set up on a tripod and the shutter is left open, the light of each firework will register on the film from start to finish. The shutter can be closed after a single firework has gone off, or left open to register the pattern left by several. This technique is also effective for photographing the lightning flashes in the course of a thunderstorm after dark.
The most effective way of collecting a number of firework patterns over a period of time is to close the shutter after each principal event and open it just before the next. This prevents the picture from being spoiled by registering minor fireworks and casual light sources. If this method is adopted, the shutter should be operated by a very long cable release so that the operator's arm can rest; waiting for several minutes with the finger at the ready on the shutter release can be very tiring.
Short shutter exposures are only possible when the display produces a great volume of light that lasts for some seconds. At such times, very effective pictures can be made of the faces of the spectators or of silhouettes against the light of fireworks or bonfires. This type of subject calls for the maximum speed that can be obtained by combining large lens apertures with high speed pan films, and processing that puts film speed before every other consideration.
Using a Flash
Flash can be used to improve firework pictures. The use of flash bulbs or electronic flash to light up people in the immediate foreground calls for double exposure technique. The most effective method is to set the camera on a tripod, focus the lens on the foreground, and stop down so far that the picture will be very much under-exposed. This exposure must be made in between fireworks or the trails will be blurred. Open flash is used to save having to reset the shutter for the fireworks.
After making the first exposure at the best moment for recording an interesting foreground, the shutter is closed, the lens refocused on infinity, and the firework trails are taken in the normal way by opening the shutter on B. The resulting picture will show the fireworks exploding in the sky and reproduce enough of the foreground (e.g., the backs of spectators) to give more depth and interest than would normally appear.
For all work of this type only the fastest panchromatic films are of any use- particularly as the subjects are largely red, which would not come out on an orthochromatic film.
Most color materials are fast enough to record the colored patterns of the fireworks, and the results are frequently enchanting. Here, too, it is worthwhile experimenting with flash to record the foreground objects.
When tracing the fireworks upon the film, using a time exposure, an aperture of f8 with a film of speed 32 ASA would normally be suitable.
When examining the results, it is as well to remember that this type of subject always gives a disappointing looking negative in black-and-white. The only reliable way of judging whether the negative is worth printing is to print it.
Most firework negatives should be printed on a hard, glossy or luster surfaced paper so that every trail or spark appears as white as possible.
For those who enjoy using photo tints, firework prints, and lantern slides, offer plenty of scope and the effects have at least a pleasing novelty that even the most hardened purist would hesitate to condemn.