Last year, I attended the 1st weekend of the 2nd International Pyromusical Festival at the SM Mall of Asia, and got the chance to get a fantastic seat to witness the competition between South Korea and Spain.
Some of my blogger friends were kidding me to put up a tutorial on shooting fireworks already. I gave in to peer pressure, so here it is. I hope you find the following tips helpful especially if you’re going to attend the festival, or if you’re going to shoot just about any event that involves fireworks.
First, here are the quick and mindless tips. They’re the ones I use every time I shoot fireworks. Feel free to print it out and bring it with you.
A Shortcut to Shooting Fireworks If You’re Using a DSLR
Nothing can be simpler than this:
1. Frame your shot
2. Turn your lens to manual focus and focus to infinity
3. Set your camera on manual mode
4. Set the aperture to f11 or f16
5. Set the shutter speed to 15-30 seconds, depending on the number of fireworks (I usually shoot at 15 seconds if there are to many fireworks bursting at the same time)
Shooting Fireworks, The Longer Version
If you’re not using a DSLR (I know many of you aren’t), or if you want a more detailed explanation of how to shoot fireworks, here are the steps you need:
1. Use a tripod. Because shooting fireworks gets you better results with long exposure times, I would recommend that you put your camera on a tripod. This will help prevent camera shake, and ensure that you’re framing is consistent with every shot that you take.
2. Prepare beforehand. I would also recommend that you go to the venue earlier and fire a few test shots. Doing so lets you determine the best vantage point for your shots, and decide how to frame your shots later on.
Being prepared also prevents you from fumbling with the controls later on. Sure, you may have to do quick adjustments in between shots, but preparing early means your adjustments will only be minor. This will result in better shots, and a less stressful experience for you.
3. Adjust your white balance. Most digital cameras offer the option for you to change the white balance settings. You will often see it as the WB symbol in your camera menu. I personally prefer the cloudy or shade settings to makes the images redder or ‘warmer’ since fireworks look better that way, for me at least.
4. Pre-focus. Aside from offering a manual white balance setting, modern cameras also feature an autofocusing function. Autofocus is great for taking everyday shots, but I would recommend you turn this setting off if you’re shooting fireworks and focus to infinity (it’s usually the 8 sign on your lens if it has a distance scale). This is the no-brainer way of ensuring that your shots are in-focus.
5. Set your camera to manual mode. This will help you shoot faster and get more shots in focus. How? I’ll show you in the next two items.
6. Choose a small aperture. Fireworks shows are often done in the evening for obvious reasons. Because of that, focusing can be quite difficult (which is why I also advise you to focus manually). So another no-brainer technique to ensuring you get sharp shots is by choosing a small aperture for your lens. I usually choose apertures of f11 or f16.
7. Choose a slow shutter speed. If you can adjust your shutter speed, I would recommend that you choose a slow one. I usually choose shutter speeds of 15, 25, or 30 seconds. These long shutter speeds help you create light trails with your shots, instead of boring dots if you shoot with a quick shutter speed.
If you cannot set your shutter speed manually, I would suggest that you set your ISO manually, to around ISO 80 or 100. Your camera would naturally choose a slow shutter speed to let more light in.
Kilcher also adds, “About the shutter speed, you can also just use Bulb Mode para di ka restricted sa number or seconds ” Thanks!
8. Choose a low ISO setting. Shooting at night could also introduce a lot of noise in your photos, which is why I recommend that you choose a low ISO setting. I usually use ISO 100 or 200 when shooting fireworks. This ensures that I get clean shots with as little noise a possible.
9. More tips to prevent camera shake. Because you’re using slow shutter speeds, your shots would be prone to camera shake. But using a tripod may not be enough if you’re shooting with a DSLR since it uses a mirror, which moves every time you take a shot. Thus, there’s a potential for a very slight movement once the mirror moves.
Because of that, I would recommend that you choose the mirror lock up mode on your camera before you shoot. What it does is that it raises the mirror before you take the shot to prevent camera shake.
I would also recommend that you use a remote shutter cord for your camera, so that you do not have to put your finger on the shutter button. But if you’re a cheapskate like I am, you could also opt to use the timer mode in your camera too.
That’s it. And since you’re shooting with slow shutter speeds, you’ll have more time to enjoy the fireworks, even while you’re busy taking photos. For some reason, looking at fireworks and seeing how they brighten up the sky never really seems to get old.
Practice Shooting Fireworks!
The photos above were taken during the first Saturday of the 2nd Philippine International Pyromusical Competition at the San Miguel by the Bay at the SM Mall of Asia.