Quick tips for photographing fireworks

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Photographing fireworks can be tricky but with the right equipment and some basic photo knowledge anyone should be able to make a memorable image. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.

Plan ahead: Many of the best photos are pre-visualized and planned out. If you want an image of fireworks bursting over the Baltimore skyline it helps to find out where the fireworks are launched from and scout a couple of good locations to shoot from ahead of time.

Use a tripod: The shutter speeds used for capturing fireworks are generally very slow so handholding a camera is not an option. A remote cable release is also helpful to keep from moving the camera while pressing the shutter button.

Set your camera to manual: Turn off your auto-focus. Your camera will wear itself out trying to find something to focus on in the empty sky. Focus on something that will be about the same distance as the bursts. If you have a point-and-shoot that doesn’t give you the option of manual settings, set the dial to landscape mode, often an icon of mountains. A few cameras actually have a “fireworks” mode among their settings.

Turn off your flash: Unless you are trying to add a little fill light to something in the foreground, your flash is only going to upset the people around you.

Find your exposure: Getting the desired exposure for fireworks often takes some experimentation. A good place to start is setting your camera to ISO 200 and the aperture to f11 with a ½ second exposure. One of the best things about digital photography is being able to instantly see your image and adjust your settings accordingly. If the fireworks in your initial image are too dark, increase your ISO or change your aperture to f8 or f5.6. If they are washed out, try ISO 100 or f16.

Because the fireworks embers are moving, your shutter speed can be as fast as ¼ second or as long as 8 seconds without overexposure. Note, however, that other light sources in your frame (such as the city skyline) will get brighter the longer the shutter is open. If your camera has a bulb (or B) setting, you can vary the shutter speed at will. As long as the cable release or shutter button is pressed the shutter stays open. This is handy when you are trying to capture the full range of a burst.

One exception I have found with the varied shutter speed rule is the grand finale. Because there are so many bursts happening at once, it is very easy to overexpose your image. Try a faster shutter speed, ¼ second or less.