As the 4th of July draws closer we think of days at the beach, picnics, hotdogs, lemonade and fireworks. Many of us in California are restricted to what kind of fireworks we can have. Most of us in the densely populated coastal regions can’t purchases fireworks. Even the “Safe and Sane” fireworks we sold in fireworks stands as boy scouts have been outlawed.
The only thing we can count on, are the professional firework displays that are put on by most local cities. These are the huge mortar type fireworks launched by professionals.
I have always wanted to capture my own photographs of these large displays. I used to think you went out and set your camera on a tripod, set the aperture to bulb and held the shutter open for a few seconds. Last year I went to a local display to capture some photographs. This was truly my fist attempt to photograph fireworks.
What I discovered was I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t prepare enough to take a quality picture. I didn’t take into account ambient light, from parking lot lights that are not shut off. Another issue I experienced was line of site interference from light poles, trees, people and buildings. I didn’t scout the site to pick the best position for the camera with an unobstructed view. I also didn’t take into account the flight of the fireworks. In order to capture the entire flight path of the fireworks, I needed to get further away from the launch site. This adjustment in my position added more light and distractions.
Other items I learned. Once you set up and you are ready to shoot, anticipate the shot. If you know where most of the action is going to take place set your shutter speed, aperture and focus beforehand. Another trick learned about after the fact is to take a black card (poster board) with you to put over the front of the lens. This will give you the ability to leave the shutter open and quickly cut off the light to the lens in-between firework launches. When the next launch starts you can quickly pull the card away to capture multiple firework exposures.
Here is a great reference from Digital Photography School on photographing fireworks displays.