Thursday, July 03, 2014

How to Photograph Fireworks

People often ask me what my settings were for certain night shots, but the light on the landscape and your subject varies from night to night as the moon phase changes, it varies from hour to hour as the moon moves in the sky, and even from moment to moment as your point your camera in different directions and have more or less light pollution in your shot.  So when I pursue night shots, I focus on determining the best exposure, and I remain vigilant to adjust it as conditions change. Normally you have to monitor f-stop, exposure time and ISO, but for fireworks the situation is simplified a bit.  The burning embers have a certain brightness which you can turn up or down adjusting f-stop or ISO, and the exposure time simply controls how long you want the trails of the moving embers to be.  You can determine the time between each shot fired, you can get many complete explosions of color.

Often an exposure time of around 4 seconds works well, but in this case the shots were being fired every 6 seconds, so I left one camera on an intervalometer capturing 5 second exposures at f/16, ISO 640, then triggering the next shot one second later, so they were 6 seconds apart in total. Upon returning, I assembled the resulting shots into a time-lapse video, as described on my blog:

Create a Timelapse Video on Your Digital Camera

For the video sequence it appears that I re-framed the shot a couple of times during the fireworks display.  I've also had been experiencing a bug in Lightroom where a crop from one shot pasted into others does not always take effect correctly, so that may be coming into play as well.
Independence Day fireworks at Crowley Lake in the Eastern Sierra 2013
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Here are some other fireworks displays I've photographed in the past 5 years:

Bridgeport, California 2012

South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, 2011

Tahoe City, California, 2010

Seaside, Oregon, 2009