It wasn’t until two years ago that I became interested in taking pictures of fireworks. Fireworks and portraits were about the only things missing from my vast collection of photographs.
In April 2011 I hired Eric Cooper to help me catalog my photo collection and put Russel Ray Photos on SmugMug, Fine Art America, Facebook, and the place where I was blogging at the time. I had over 55,000 photos and about 500 more arriving every day. I couldn’t keep up, much less catch up or even get ahead.
Eric had been unemployed for six months after the portrait studio that he had worked at for six years closed down when the owner retired. Eric had a huge collection of fireworks pictures and had asked Jim and me if we wanted to go watch the 2011 Fourth of July fireworks with he and his girlfriend. We said yes. Those were my first fireworks pictures, and, smartypants that I was, I took my pictures and Eric took his. Not until afterwards did I wonder if we truly had been at the same event. My pictures were dastardly and his were worthy of National Geographic.
He told me it’s actually really easy to get good fireworks pictures but it’s exactly the opposite of what I was thinking and doing. My thoughts were that since it was dark, I needed a high ISO. Since I was using Auto on my camera, if I set ISO, the camera would set the aperture value and the shutter speed. The camera doesn’t have a fireworks mode; some do now.
So here are the secret settings to taking great fireworks pictures:
Second (for you Bashar), buy a tripod. This is the only time each year that I use a tripod.
Third, set your camera to MANUAL. This is critical because you don’t want the camera making any decisions for you. Mr/s. Camera is smart, but still not as smart as you!
Fourth, set your ISO to 100. It’s true that it is dark outside, but you are not taking a picture of the darkness. You are taking pictures of fireworks, which are very bright and can be seen miles away.
Fifth (of Wild Turkey), set your aperture to somewhere between f/8 and f/16. This is going to depend on your camera and your lens. It’s another setting that appears to be counter-intuitive. Usually the more light you want (it’s dark outside), the lower f value you would use (f/2.8 for example). Not the case here. Remember that you are taking pictures of extremely bright fireworks, not the dark sky.
Sixth, take longer exposures. This is where your tripod is critical because those longer exposures mean that you simply can’t hold the camera and expect to get a great picture, much less a good one. My exposures are anywhere from four to ten seconds. This is how you get the streaks and the multiple fireworks in the pictures. If the exposure time is too short, you miss out on something, like the streaks of the fireworks as they head up into the sky. If the exposure time is too long, you get glare from the fireworks smoke. Streaks (good) and smoke glare (bad) can be seen in this paragraph’s picture.
Seventh, remember what my wise old grandmother said as she was cutting pictures up and creating her picture scrapbooks and photo albums: “What comes out of the camera is just the basics to start with.” When I get home, I take the pictures to Photoshop (this year it will be Photoshop CC) and clean them up. That means that I might darken the sky, up the contrast to get more color, or even combine pictures to get the best fireworks all in the same picture. In this paragraph’s picture, I originally had a lot of smoke glare. Darkening the sky gave me just the reflected colors off the smoke seen at the bottom of the picture.
Eighth, learn how to use a good digital photo editing program to clean up your pictures. I use Photoshop CC but I can also recommend Corel PaintShop Pro X5, GIMP, Picasa, ACDSee, Aperture…. There are so many…. Pick one and learn how to use it.
There ya go! Have fun! And don’t forget to let us see your fireworks pictures in your blog!
Jim and I are going to the SeaWorld fireworks show again this year. Last year was our first at SeaWorld after several years on the San Diego waterfront watching the Big Bay Boom. SeaWorld was less crowded and the fireworks show was longer….. Well, comparing last year’s fireworks show length between SeaWorld and the Big Bay Boom might not be fair because of what happened at the Big Bay Boom last year. Here’s a YouTube video of last year’s Big Bay Boom. Don’t let the video length (29 seconds) scare you away from watching it………….lol
That wasn’t the Grand Finale. At the time, people thought it was the best beginning ever to a fireworks show. Unfortunately, that was 18 minutes of fireworks at three locations simultaneously going off due to several technical errors. Instead of 18 minutes of fireworks, it was a 25-second show that left everyone disappointed. San Diego took the brunt of the criticism instead of the company that sold, prepared, and operated the fireworks show.
If you go downtown to the Big Bay Boom, I can highly recommend taking the San Diego Trolley so you don’t have to mess with parking. If you have to take the car because of a large family or you have amenities like chairs and coolers full of drinks and food, park in the airport parking lot, walk across North Harbor Drive, and set up camp.
No one (except me!) ever parks in the airport lot for the Big Bay Boom because they think it is just for airport business. Ha! Thus, there is always parking, and the short walk across the street is nothing. Parking there might cost you $5 or $10, but if you have a carload of people and chairs, it’s a great place to park!
P.S. Remember not to take your pets to the fireworks shows. The crowds and booms can frighten them unnecessarily. This is one night to leave them at home.
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