Capturing Fireworks
July 4, 2008 8:42 AM   Subscribe

How to Photograph Fireworks

I would love to see the fireworks other Me-Fites have photographed after each respective display tonight, not so sure self linkage in comments are allowed, but I would still love to see what everyone has captured afterwards. And if anyone else has any more tips that they want to share I think we would all appreciate it.
posted by Del Far (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
#11 - Have a background that would look stunning even without the fireworks.
posted by smackfu at 8:51 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Self links in comments are fine. Self links in posts make for beautiful photos when the mods notice and everything goes pear-shaped.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:52 AM on July 4, 2008


Unfortunately, it's raining. Damn.

But at least Jesse Helms is dead!
posted by R. Mutt at 8:58 AM on July 4, 2008


Also, it's kind of fun to ignore #1 (Use a tripod.) You get photos that look like an acid trip.
posted by smackfu at 9:04 AM on July 4, 2008


#11 - Have a background that would look stunning even without the fireworks.

An excellent point. The sample photos have this quality. Any other fireworks photo, no matter how perfectly exposed, will just look like fireworks. Adding context is the key. But, if there's not a a good background, try getting low and silhouetting spectators against the sky. That can be pretty cool too. Here's a poor example of that. (I can call it poor because it's my own.)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:13 AM on July 4, 2008


I went out without any experience last 4th and just had at it. A lot of what I took was rubbish, but I'm awfully found of this one.
posted by TheRoach at 9:16 AM on July 4, 2008


#0 - Break every single god damn one of those rules, and every other "rule" associated with creating art, at least once. Learn that the "rules" are nothing so much as guidelines and, like every other element of creative pursuit, must be fundamentally understood -- not just blindly followed -- so you can decide when to break them, and why, to create something new.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:43 AM on July 4, 2008


#0 - Break every single god damn one of those rules, and every other "rule" associated with creating art, at least once. Learn that the "rules" are nothing so much as guidelines and, like every other element of creative pursuit, must be fundamentally understood -- not just blindly followed -- so you can decide when to break them, and why, to create something new.

Good job with that passionate outburst! You really showed that collection of technical tips for beginners that you won't take its art-killing bullshit sitting down.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:50 AM on July 4, 2008 [15 favorites]


The ever-loquacious Ken Rockwell has an unusually concise article on photographing fireworks that is basically just a recipe for getting the right light levels. If you start with his steps you can skip a lot of the mucking around with exposure. Ken'll be the first to tell you that technical expertise is completely orthogonal to whether your shots are actually awesome shots, but fireworks are so ephemeral that, seanmpuckett's advice nothwithstanding, you'll have more fun knowing what you're doing.
posted by mindsound at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


seanmpuckett: "#0 - Break every single god damn one of those rules, and every other "rule" associated with creating art, at least once. Learn that the "rules" are nothing so much as guidelines and, like every other element of creative pursuit, must be fundamentally understood -- not just blindly followed -- so you can decide when to break them, and why, to create something new."

Why everytime an art 'rule' is mentioned someone feels the need to bring up this?
posted by Memo at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2008


A few more:

YouTube - Photographing Fireworks
How to take pictures of Fireworks
Fireworks Photography Tips - PhotographyREVIEW.com
How to Photograph Fireworks
picturelineNews July 2004 - Digital Fireworks! The Big Boom :
Photographing Fireworks

PhotographyBLOG - Articles: Photographing Fireworks
posted by psyche7 at 9:57 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay, I'm an idiot, so bear with me here. My digital camera has a 'fireworks mode.' Should I use it?
posted by box at 9:59 AM on July 4, 2008


Usually, the "modes" just choose a group of settings that work best for that particular kind of photo. I'm guessing it selects a longish shutter speed and mid-range f-stop. It might also focus at infinity. If you don't have manual control over these things, then it might be the best bet. You'd still probably want a tripod.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:08 AM on July 4, 2008


“Get some black foam core and set your camera to bulb. Start the exposure when the fireworks start with the piece of foam core in front of the lens. Every time a burst happens move the foam core out of the way. You will get multiple firework bursts in one exposure”

that was the best tip, definitely doing that one. i, like box, am also curious about fireworks mode on my canon s3is.
posted by Mach5 at 10:10 AM on July 4, 2008


I wish I could show you my favourite ever picture of fireworks, taken for my paper on bonfire night. Edinburgh castle as the backdrop, beautifully lit, clear sky ... and a dribble of red jism, tiny in the top left, like someone had thrown a sparkler in the air.

It was just awful, but at least if you're going out to try and shoot something tonight you can rest in the knowledge that even the pros fuck it right up sometimes.
posted by bonaldi at 10:11 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Or you could be like a guy we saw at Disney World taking pictures of the fireworks without a tripod, on a boat, with the flash.
posted by jedicus at 10:17 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or you could be like a guy we saw at Disney World taking pictures of the fireworks without a tripod, on a boat, with the flash.

Hopefully with the lens cap still on, and no film in the camera.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:21 AM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've gotten some decent photos of fireworks, but I have to agree with those that without a decent background, it's just photos of fireworks. Last year I got this photo of the crowd, bathed in the light of the fireworks, and I actually like it more than all of the photos I've taken of the explosions.

More on topic, I think the best tip for pretty fireworks photos is to keep your shutter open for a long, long time. I find that the ideal simulation of persistence of vision and memory is an 8-10 second exposure. Much less than 5 seconds and you'll just see points of light scattered in the sky. Much longer than that and it gets all blurry, especially if there's any sort of a breeze.
posted by waldo at 10:38 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


...Like every other element of creative pursuit, must be fundamentally understood -- not just blindly followed -- so you can decide when to break them, and why, to create something new."

Having cultivated some real technical skill is basically what allows true artistic experimentation to occur at all. Without, you're just one of a hundred chimps on a hundred typewriters who occasionally forms a complete sentence purely by accident.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:49 AM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


/me misses his SLR.

I'm going to see what this little consumer shooter I have can do tonight, but I don't have much hope the shots will be any good :(

(yes, I'm blaming the equipment)
posted by vertigo25 at 10:50 AM on July 4, 2008


Using a tripod is essential if you aim for long exposures, but sometimes hauling one around is not practical. Tips for shooting handheld:

1) Shoot at ISO >800 or ISO AUTO, shutter priority with 1/30s or 1/60s, longer only if you have steady hands. Push the noise in the dark background to black afterwards with computer software. The images will look completely clean, although colors might suffer a bit.
2) Zoom wide, crop afterwards. This way you might be able to strech to 1/8s if you're lucky.
3) Shoot a lot. It's mostly a game of chance.
4) Don't look at the pictures on the pixel level. If somebody complains about the sharpness of you pictures, process them with excessive software sharpening.

Your pictures won't look like the typical long exposure fireworks photos, but instead something like this.
5) Contend that it's your artistic choice.

For pocket cameras without tripod and no manual control, there's only one rule: Use the "Fireworks" preset and you'll be fine.
posted by ikalliom at 11:35 AM on July 4, 2008


Some of mine.
posted by Ragma at 11:40 AM on July 4, 2008


Mine from New Years Eve Y2K overlooking Times Square. Pretty awful, thanks to a combination of an amateur photographer and a crummy camera, but the backdrop was great.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2008


And I love that first San Diego shot, Ragma.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:45 PM on July 4, 2008


I didn't have the right camera on Canada Day, but having recently played with CHDK and a Canon S2 IS, it seems like it would work nicely. You can use scripts that auto-trigger the shutter based on light levels; some people have gotten that working fast enough to catch lightning strikes, so I'm sure it would work for fireworks.
posted by sixswitch at 12:58 PM on July 4, 2008


Don't shoot garish HDR crap like this. Yuck.
posted by raysmj at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2008


oh god I loathe HDR. Yet the Flickrenes seem to love it.
posted by bonaldi at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2008


Sorry, but I had a hard taking this remotely seriously after seeing the second photo, the one I just linked. It's over-processed beyond all reason, looks fake as hell, the colors are pukish. It's the photo equivalent of dogs playing poker.
posted by raysmj at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2008


Quick and dirty shot from last night.

Love it when people try to use the flash at a big fireworks event (or a concert). Like the goggles, it does nothing.
posted by starman at 1:58 PM on July 4, 2008


... but sometimes hauling [a tripod] around is not practical.

You don't have to take a full-size tripod: take a look at the table-top tripods. Set it up on a wall or rock or even the ground. I favour the Manfrotto/Bogen, it's very compact but can hold an SLR with a moderately long lens.
posted by phliar at 2:43 PM on July 4, 2008


I took a tripod and set it up on a wet baseball diamond last night & shot most of these. I'm still not happy with the results, but I'm gonna work on it again tonight.
posted by pjern at 2:46 PM on July 4, 2008


pjern: This and most everything else in that set (especially the amazing shot from 1970's Berlin) are a zillion times better that that HDR garbage posted above.
posted by nev at 7:06 PM on July 4, 2008


Interesting thing happened during our town's firework display tonight: there was no wind at all. Not a good thing, since the grand finale didn't really work at all. They were setting off barrages that all went to the same height, and so there was this big cloud of smoke just hanging in mid-air. After a while, the fireworks just went up and exploded in the cloud, and you could see only see half the explosions. Really weird.

Alas, I forgot my camera.
posted by smackfu at 9:02 PM on July 4, 2008


Mine. Pedestrian but I had a lot of fun. ^_^

The trick that made the exposures manageable and intuitive for me was to leave the shutter open for 30 seconds or more while waving my cupped hands in front of the lens to cut out sloppy bits. We had very low cloud cover (it was actually drizzling) which the fireworks illuminated, and it was only with a smaller aperture and a longer exposure that I could really get any sky in the picture.

Yay!
posted by mindsound at 10:16 PM on July 4, 2008


felt like 30 seconds but I guess most of them weren't now that I look at the metadata HMMMMMMM
posted by mindsound at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2008


Mine scroll down. I set up in the worng place to get any kind of interesting foreground image. I did find that using a cable release allowed me to enjoy seeing the fireworks while still photographing them, so that's something at least.
posted by willnot at 9:55 AM on July 5, 2008


This was fun! Dragged my DSLR downtown and captured this shot (20 second exposure). A few more are stuck in this set. Apparently my tripod is steady enough to get some decent shots without needing a remote shutter trigger. I think my wife and I spent more time looking at the photos this morning than we did watching the 20 minute show last night!

Once I had it aimed, it was easy to just sit back and hold down the shutter without spending the entire time staring through the viewfinder. Would have been a shame to miss the actual show while trying to capture bits of it.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2008


I don't have it on me, but I got a wonderful shot on my Lomo Supersampler - it's almost as if the 'four frames per shot' design was MADE to take pictures of fireworks...
posted by SciencePunk at 3:44 AM on July 7, 2008


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