Photo Work: Fourth of July Fireworks

Last night my friends and I went to Discovery Park in downtown San Jose to watch the fireworks.  Blue Hour had just ended, and the dark sky provided a wonderful canvas for the fireworks.  The only trouble is finding a good place; the city lights were a concern for me and other photographers out there.  


Luckily we got a nice spot across the street, save one yellow streetlight.  Not having a lens hood actually was a hindrance for me (I'm not the biggest fan of them, for convenience's sake), but I was able to make do once we saw how high the fireworks were showing.

After observing and taking a few times to learn how to take shots of fireworks, I've been able to gather a few tips:

  • Find your place early.  Sadly, we left our friend's house late and had to run around to find a good spot (there was one really nice area in a parking garage, but a private party took the top floor for who knows what reason), but we eventually came to a spot on the street.  I would've preferred a place with elevation to get a good horizon shot, but you gotta always be flexible.
  • Shoot with a tripod.  Now this one I have a few opinions about.  You'll get a guaranteed crisp, clean shot with a tripod (well, 90% of the time), but if you have a steady arm and a fast enough shutter speed, a tripod isn't always necessary.  If it hadn't been so crowded, I would've loved to being my tripod; however, I was able to make do with just holding the camera for 20 minutes.
  • Aperture f/4-f/16.  Normally, people shoot fireworks with an average Aperture of f/8-f/16, but I took my shots using f/4-f/8 and the results were fine.  In hindsight, an aperture of f/8 would yield better results due to the distance of the fireworks and the spread of the explosions (since the smaller the aperture, the larger the depth of field), but taking careful aim can remediate this.  
  • Shutter Speed 1/6-1/200s. For shutter speed, I experimented with ranges from 1/6s to 1/200s.  Many beginner photographers aren't aware that fireworks are surprisingly bright - their lights push the light meter way above normal in the night sky.  Depending on the type of firework, it may take a few tries to get the ideal lighting down, but the key point is to be aware that fireworks are bursts of light.  That being said, the other factor in shutter speed is the amount of trail you want your fireworks to have.  Have the shutter open longer yields a nice trail, but can put the shot in danger of coming out blurry if you don't have a steady hand.  Have it open too short will yield dark, small lights.  I found my best shots around 1/30-1/100s.  
  • ISO: Keep it as low as possible; more noise will yield a less ideal shot.  I used areas of 200-800.
  • Vertical vs. horizontal.  I liked most of my shots to be vertical (since fireworks fire upwards and leave a nice motion).
  • Double-Exposure.  This was a new feature I tinkered around with on my 70D, and it yielded beautiful results.  Put simply, the camera takes an x amount of exposures and pieces them together to create one image in camera, with various parts of each image overlapping each other. Just be mindful of the area of the fireworks during each shot (so it won't overlap), and that the lighting is ideal; otherwise the shot will be overexposed (I tested out my shutter speed first, 1/30s., then started combining shots).  

Here are couple of the shots I took, also available on Flickr:

They're not exactly the best!  But I'm still learning.  It's a start.  But it's always a learning experience.  What I would do differently would be:

  • Find a higher place to take shots.
  • know my Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO
  • Use a tripod

Overall, it was a great Fourth of July.  I hope everyone else had a great time with their shots!  

Until next time,