Fireworks photography

July 5, 2010 | By Patrick | Filed in: Geek, PAS.

As usual, the family attended the fireworks in West Bend, WI last night, but for the first time I set up to take pictures. The threat of rain didn’t manifest itself, so I would get to snap some pics this evening.

After setting up, I confirmed some notes I read earlier in the week from Scott Bourne’s PhotoFocus blog, and sat and waited. Shutter set to 4 seconds, ISO set to 200, aperture set somewhere around 5 or 6. C’mon, dark!

The first few bursts went off and I had to adjust my focus point upward to exclude some of the landscape and buildings. I did a little experimentation during the show (shortened the shutter speed), but not much else changed.

Nearly 200 shots later, the show came to a close. How did they turn out? The ones worth keeping I posted to Flickr and to a Picasa web album.


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Things I learned:

– Short shutter speeds (under 3 seconds) don’t look very good. Unless you time it absolutely perfect, you don’t capture enough of the fireworks trails to make a good picture.

– Higher is better. Find a box, a ladder, high ground…something. Eliminate the landscape as much as possible.

– Keep snapping. True, you’ll get lots of crap shots, but you’re sure to capture some gems, too. As the display wears on, you’ll get a better feel for how high and how long the launch process takes and be able to time your shots.

– Wind matters. The trails will follow the wind. The windier it is the longer the trails flow while the shutter is open. You can get away with slightly shorter shutter speeds if it’s windy.

– The light from the explosion does illuminate the area around the burst and (unfortunately) lights the smoke puffs from other explosions. When the choreography (?) allows for pauses between bursts, take advantage.

– Like in my lightning experiment, I found that the use of a remote shutter works well. It’s great to watch the big picture while you’re still firing away with the remote.

It was great fun and worth the effort of bringing the gear and setting up. Trying something different helps get my photographic juices flowing. What should I try next?

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