Saturday, February 26, 2011

Photographing Fireworks.

Kuwait's 50th anniversary of Independence. 
Fireworks is one of the most photo-friendly activity because it is so dramatic and colorful. However, getting the right picture requires a little bit of planning, the right equipment and a little bit of luck.

Why luck?, you may ask. The reason is that fireworks generate lights of different intensity, and at random intervals. Your camera cannot do the calculations quickly enough to get the right exposure because the fireworks will be over before the camera computes the correct exposure. When shooting fireworks, almost everything has to be done manually.

Here's what you need to capture great pictures of fireworks.
   1. Tripod.
   2. Camera (preferably a dSLR) that can be set to "bulb" mode.
   3. A cable release (or a remote) that can activate the shutter and then close the shutter when you decide that the right amount of light has reached the sensor.
   4. Patience
   5. Bit of luck.

Nikon D300, f8, 5.2 seconds, ISO 200, 18mm, EV +0.5.
To get the above picture, I made sure that I found myself a nice uninterrupted view and set up my tripod 2 hours before the start of the show. During the entire period, I stood there making sure nobody else came and took my place.

Nikon D300, f2.8, 1/6th Second, ISO 400, 18mm, EV +0.5
To get the "right" type of picture, you need to figure out approximately what shutter speed is needed to get the correct picture - based on your current aperture and ISO.

If you are fairly close to the action, my recommendation is to go low on the ISO (in order to reduce noise), and a fairly decent aperture to get your object in sharp focus. I love to set my aperture to around f8 when shooting fireworks - though I may change this depending on the needs.

As for focusing, It is recommended to use manual focusing unless you are able to get the camera to focus on an object close to where the fireworks are going to happen. In my examples above, the Kuwait Towers was visible even when the fireworks were not going off - so I set my camera's focusing point on the tower and kept it on auto-focus. If there is no visible object for focusing (when there are no fireworks), manual focusing should be used.

Nikon D300, f8, 3.9 seconds, ISO 200, 18mm, EV +0.5
The good thing about a cable release is that you get to enjoy the fireworks instead of focusing on the camera. When you see the fireworks starting, you hit the cable release to open the shutter, and then based on your judgement, you release the cable release to close the shutter.

Don't hesitate taking multiple exposures and experiment with different shutter speeds. In the 1 hour that I stood looking at the awesome display put up by the Kuwait government on the commemoration of its 50th anniversary of Independence, I took exactly 603 pictures. Did they all come out this good? Definitely no. Some were over-exposed and some were under-exposed, but more than half of them were usable pictures. That's a lot of pictures of the fireworks.

Here are some more of the pictures that I processed from the lot.

And here's a video mash-up I did of all the 603 photos compressed in 3 and half minutes.


Mark Gillett said...

Nice tutorial! And good to see you pursuing a goal. They are great shots....

flobo said...

This is a great tutorial. I am gonna bookmark this one.

Cajie said...

Thanks Mark & flobo.

agnes said...

Hi, I will be blogging about Kuwait, audience being Hong Kong readers, I would like to ask for courtesy from you for sharing your photos in my blog, That would be wonder and fantastic for the HK readers. Please let me know if that's fine with you.