How to capture amazing firework pictures
Our journey to capture amazing firework shots
As amateur photographers, both my husband & I have always tried to capture a good firework picture, but unfortunately, we've never been able to.
Most firework pictures we took in the past always be blurry, smokey, washed-out, dark (under-exposure) & sometimes over-exposure and not as colorful & crisp as the other firework pictures we've seen from the professional photographers.
Couple months ago, we've challenged ourselves to capture a great firework picture from Sydney New Year's Eve 2010. We've decided to practice beforehand, so on Christmas Eve, we brought our camera & our tripod to capture the beautiful colorful firework in Sydney Darling Harbour.
Unfortunately, all firework pictures came out blurry (again) and washed-out.
But, we've learned our lessons and finally discovered several tips on how to capture great firework pictures. Tips which we applied during the Sydney NYE and we're pretty happy with the results.
The journey will not end here, we'll still be learning and as we go along in our firework shooting journey, more tips will be added here.
I hope all these tips below will help you to take the best fireworks pictures!
The mistakes we've made on our first firework shooting session
1. Auto-focus mode and high ISO level
Auto focus didn't allow us to set the shutter speed and high ISO level produced pictures with lots of noise.
The picture came out washed-out and grainy.
2. Exposure Time
We didn't understand about the exposure time at that time, so we shot at the wrong time. We were supposed to use the shutter button for few seconds in order to capture the full fireworks burst. As you can see on the picture on the right hand side, we shot it too early, hence, the fireworks hasn't burst yet.
3. Aperture Level
As we used auto-focus mode, high ISO level, and did not care about the aperture level, the picture came up too bright, even the dark sky looked too bright. And the fireworks color were washed-up.
4. The Location
We settled in the wrong spot. Even though we were able to capture the firework up in the sky, however, we couldn't get any good picture of firework at the water level. Because all we could capture was people's head.
Tips of capturing great firework pictures
Thankfully, we could learn from our mistakes. We've read our camera's manual and discovered the following tips & tricks which hopefully can help you capturing great firework pictures.
1. The Equipments
--- Camera ----
Obviously you'll need your camera.
We use to capture these firework pictures, currently you can also shoot great fireworks pictures using digital compact camera which has fireworks feature. The tricks are still the same, you need to secure the best possible spot & you must use your tripod. Nikon D7000
Recommended Digital Compact Camera with Fireworks Features - Priced under $300
Sturdy, strong tripod is essential. If you hold the camera in your hand, your hand may shake and it will shake the camera making it capturing a blurry shot. But if the camera is mounted in the tripod, the camera will stand still and make it possible to capture a sharp firework shot.
I use Manfrotto 190XPROB leg and Manfrotto 804RC2 tilt head for my fireworks shot and this tripod works like magic. You can read reviews about this tripod and the tips on how to choose the best tripod for your needs on my Tripod article.
--- Memory Card ---
--- Battery & Spare Battery ---
Make sure your camera's battery is fully charged. No-one want to miss out the great shot or the firework finale shots because their camera's battery dies.
--- Torch or Flashlight ---
We found out that torch or flashlight is very handy in case you'll need to adjust your camera's setting in the darkness. Bring a small one so it's easy to carry. Or if you have a mobile phone which has a flashlight application, you can use it instead.
--- Cable release ---
To capture great firework shots, we'll need a sturdy hand to shot the image at the right shutter speed & time. Sometimes, we've found it quite difficult to keep the camera stand still (even though it's mounted in the tripod) as our hand maybe shaky and ended up with a blurry firework shot. Cable release is useful as you can easily press the button in the cable at the right shutter speed & exposure time, giving you the sharpest & best firework shots.
2. The Location
On our way to our first firework practice session, we saw more than 10 photographers already had their tripod & camera gear ready in the small section at the top of the Darling Harbour. We didn't realize that the location of shooting the firework is extremely important.
1. Arrive at the location early so you can choose the best location (the highest vantage point is recommended) & if there is water, choose the location where you can get the best view of the firework and the water (to capture the firework and its reflection on the water).
Check the surrounding area from that vantage point to ensure there is obstructions (tree, high building, etc) that will hinder you capturing great firework shots.
But you can also consider any building / scenery / landmark from your vantage point so your firework shot can stand out with this landmark building. For example: if you want to capture a great Sydney NYE firework, I suggest you capturing it from Mrs Macquaire chair area, in which you can get great shots of Opera House & Harbour Bridge.
2. Check the wind direction, so you won't get lots of smoke in your firework shots. All fireworks generate smoke, but you can minimise it by choosing the location in which the wind will go to the other direction from your vantage shooting point. We learnt about this tip the hard way, every time we shot the fireworks, the wind always went to our direction making our firework pictures full of smokes. And we're unable to capture any firework finale as the sky was full of smoke.
3. The Camera Setting
1. Turn off the flash & use manual mode. Shot in RAW, so you can easily adjust it later.
2. Set the camera at Bulb Mode (B)
If your camera don't have this function, you can easily put your finger in the shooting button and press it according to the shutter speed you want. For fireworks, the exposure time is between 2 - 5 seconds.
3. Shoot at the lowest ISO possible
As you shoot the firework in the dark (nighttime), you don't want the sky to be illuminated with light right? High ISO will produce image with high exposure, lots of light and usually a grainy image with lots of noise.
4. I usually use aperture of f/8-11 for ISO 100 and f/16 for ISO 200. But feel free to experiment with it. I usually start with f/16 ISO 200 at the start of the firework and when the multiple fireworks being shot to the sky, I reduce it to ISO 100 and f/11.
5. Press the shutter button before the first firework burst. Hold it for several second (usually 2 seconds) until the burst completes. Hold the shutter longer for multiple bursts (usually 5 seconds).
Video on Tips & Tricks for Fireworks Photography
This video below sums up all the important tips & tricks that we need to know on fireworks photography. Hope it will help you to produce the best fireworks shots for this year's fourth of July celebration!
Video Credit: MichaelTheMentor
How to edit washed-out fireworks pictures
for Nikon D7000 owners
Even though we're able to take good fireworks pictures, however, I have to admit that sometimes post-editing process will still be required. At the beginning of the firework show, we should be able to take great clear shots. However, as the sky begins to be filled with smokes & light, the firework's color begins to fade resulting in a washed-out firework shots.
If you take your pictures using Nikon D7000 and use the settings I recommended above, you can simply edit your raw picture using ViewNX2 software, which comes with your Nikon D7000 package bundle.
Editing your washed-out picture is extremely easy. You can simply adjust the exposure level, picture control and sharpness of the image.
Here are three steps on how to edit washed out picture using ViewNX2 Software:
- Open and edit the RAW file in ViewNX2.
- Reduce the exposure level to minus number. Drag the slider to minus number until you're happy with the darkness of your picture.
By reducing the exposure level, it will also reduce the smoke in your picture
- Adjust the white balance. I usually use "Direct Sunlight" or "High Color Rendering" adjustment, but you can also drag the slider of the fine adjustment and tint color manually until you're happy with the color quality of your picture
- Adjust the sharpness of your picture.
- When you're happy with your firework picture, click "Convert Files" to save the file in jpef and tiff format.
- The result of post-editing:
How to capture amazing firework pictures was awarded Lens of the Day on July 3, 2011. I'm eternally grateful for the honor and will always try my best to update this lens with all-related firework photography tips & tricks.
I just updated this lens with simple instructions on how to edit your RAW washed-out firework pictures using ViewNX2.
Thank you for all the lovely comments and your visits. I hope through this lens, you were able to capture great fireworks shots on the 4th of July celebration!