Digital Photography

How To Photograph Fireworks

It is that time of the year again when we all get excited to capture the 4th of July fireworks. Capturing a stunning fireworks is an art work and an experimental fun at the same time. I think it is a new experience every time no matter how many times you have done it before. Sometimes, we get the perfect location and our camera settings work perfect but sometimes things won't turn out the way we want them to. But, no matter what, at least for me, when I go to shoot fireworks, it is always an exciting moment whatever the outcome would be. The moment of a celebration, meeting varieties of people and sharing our experiences with each other is another attraction of this event. Also, fireworks is probably one of the best form of an outdoor entertainment as well.

Before Fireworks

Before Fireworks

It is very important to reach the fireworks area at least 30 minutes to an hour prior so that you can choose the best location possible to view the fireworks and setup your camera on the tripod. You don't want to sit too close to the fireworks because of the smoke coming out of the fireworks. It does not look pretty getting those cloudy smoke in the frame (sometimes you can't avoid them during a shooting but you can edit them out during post processing). Also, if you are too close to the fireworks, it will get difficult to balance the exposure and you might need a wide angle lens to cover the shots as well. And, you don't want to go too far either, otherwise you will end up missing lots of details. You want to get a clear fireworks shot with the clear dark background.

I am trying to cover everything about shooting fireworks that I have learned over the years and divided this blog into two sections; basic hardware you need along with your camera and the camera settings for the fireworks.

Taking-fireworks-picture.jpg

First, let's discuss about some of the hardware you need to shoot fireworks.

1. Camera and Lens Camera : For the best results, you might want to use a camera that has a Manual mode. The reason is, you can't control what parameters camera will select in an Automatic mode. In a Manual mode, you can adjust an Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO and many other factors to control your exposure in a given shooting environment.

Lens : I suggest mid-range zoom telephoto lens for the fireworks since you can zoom in and zoom out depending on your location and distance to the fireworks. My personal favorite is 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II (if you are using a DX format DSLR) and 70-200 mm f/2.8G VR II (if you are using an FX format DSLR).

2. Tripod If you are planning to shoot fireworks without a tripod, you are probably wasting your time. If you want to get a crisp image, you can't shoot fireworks without using a tripod. Since we are shooting with a low ISO to avoid any possible noise and using 2 to 5 seconds of exposure time (shutter speed), we will get a blurry image shooting handheld. That's why it is probably the best idea to get a sturdy tripod that supports the weight of your camera body along with the lens. I use Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro tripod with a Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head.

3. Remote shutter release While shooting fireworks, you want to prevent your camera from any kind of shaking or vibration. Using a camera on a tripod definitely makes it stable for a long exposure shot and using a remote shutter release helps to avoid any camera shake while pressing the shutter release button. I use remote shutter release cable for this purpose. You may be able to use wireless shutter release if your camera supports it but I am not sure how easy will it be to use it at night and specially when you are in the crowd.

July 4th Fireworks

July 4th Fireworks

Now, after getting all the hardware together, let's discuss about the Camera Settings to get the best result possible. These are guidelines and not the hard and fast rules.

1. Turn your camera Mode dial into a Manual Mode (M). As you already know, Manual mode allows us to pick our own settings for ISO, Shutter speed and Aperture and adjust them individually to set the correct exposure.

2. To start with, set the Shutter speed between 2 to 5 seconds and an aperture between f11 to f14 to achieve deep depth of field. Combination of a slower shutter speed and a smaller aperture (larger f value) let the camera sensor to collect more lights, maintain a sharp focus throughout the frame and produce the trail of lights forming a beautiful fireworks.

3. I recommend using a Manual focus when you are shooting long distance subject (that is moving fast as well) in a low light condition. The reason is, camera's Autofocus system may not be able to track the subject accurately (every time) and lock the exposure to activate the shutter release button. For few initial shots, you can activate the camera's Autofocus system by pressing the shutter release button halfway down (lens should be in Autofocus mode) and once you get the clear focus, switch the focusing mode into a manual mode so that your camera doesn't need to track the fireworks and re-focus it every time it is fired which might slow down the capturing process. If you change the focal length (zoom in or zoom out) of your lens, you have to repeat this procedure again to get the fireworks in focus.

How-to-photograph-fireworks.jpg

4. If you do not have a remote shutter release option available at the moment, you can apply this little trick to avoid any camera shake: set the shutter release option into self timer mode and set the timer into 2 seconds. That will trigger the shutter release button only after 2 seconds of pressing it and avoid any potential camera shake. But you have to be careful with the timing of pressing the shutter release button and firing of the fireworks. Otherwise you could miss the good shots.

5. Turn the Auto ISO off and shoot with minimum ISO possible, ISO 100 for example, to reduce any digital noise. When you shoot with an Auto ISO mode on, camera may bump up ISO value to compensate the low light condition and produce grainy noise in your picture.

6. You can turn off Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) feature on your lens while shooting on a tripod. Turning it off also reduces the amount of moving parts inside the lens and makes capturing process much faster.

How-To-Shoot-Fireworks.jpg

7. While shooting fireworks, I recommend shooting in a RAW mode rather than a JPEG mode. That way you can always touch up later to remove any smoke or other distractions from your photographs.

8. Set the White balance into Auto mode. It works well most of the times and even if it doesn't, you can always change it during the post processing if you shoot in a RAW mode (another reason to shoot RAW).

9. And, you want to switch off your camera flash if you haven't already.

Take a few shots with the suggested camera settings and see how it works for you. If the image is too bright or too dark, adjust your shutter speed or aperture settings. It gets tricky during the end of the show when they tend to finish up with the rapid fire and you may end up getting over exposed photograph if you do not adjust your exposure settings accordingly. Personally, I would like to set an Aperture value into a large number (small aperture) and keep it fixed and only adjust the Shutter speed to a different value to control the ambient light. That way, you get the deep depth of field keeping everything in focus and also it will be much easier and faster just to adjust the shutter speed using the command dial depending on whether you are over exposed or under exposed. But you also have to be careful not to open the shutter for too long which might capture a longer action making your fireworks look blurry. You can also try the BULB mode (if available in your camera) and time the closing of the shutter as soon as the explosion ends so that you won't get any smoke into your frame. When using the BULB mode, you can use your cellphone timer to time the exposure.

How-to-take-Fireworks-shot.jpg

Focal Length - 27mm     Aperture - f/20     Exposure - 4 sec     ISO - 200

After taking few shots with the recommended settings, you can always experiment with it and be creative with your shots. More you shoot, more creative you will become and minimize the chance of getting errors and making mistakes. Learning from our mistakes and not to repeat it again is the key for success. Do not hesitate to grab your camera and do some experiments with it on this upcoming July 4th fireworks.

Happy 4th of July everyone and Happy Shooting!

I Write About Digital Photography

Hello Everyone! I write about digital photography but this post is more about continue my writing about digital photography rather than photography itself. It's been a while since I wrote my last blog on photography. I received few emails, facebook messages and comments about my inactivity and when will I be publishing my next blog again? But I didn't have any clear answer on when I will start writing again. Since last few weeks, I was watching random YouTube videos (vlog) and got amazed by the energy and the passion of few vloggers. After following them for few weeks, I got inspired and that pushed me to start writing again. I spent couple sleepless nights to upgrade my blog so that mobile and tablet users can navigate seamlessly and desktop users can also load page faster. Nowadays, you can't blog without supporting multi-platform readers. One estimate suggests that 67% of people do everything on their mobile devices nowadays. After updating my blog, I was going through my past blogs and found something to be corrected here and there. I have tried my best, but, of course, I wouldn’t be able to finish it all in few days. So, if you notice anything that needs to be corrected, please let me know and I will review them and correct them as soon as possible. I'm thinking to write at least two blogs a week for now and adjust it later if needed.

When I thought of writing again, I began to look for photos I took in the past, books I used to read and some of the blogs I used to follow and quickly realized that I have a lot to catch on. But I'm determined and ready to learn more and resume my blogging. I hope you will also share your ideas and work or post comments or question on my blog so that we all can learn together.

This is sort of come back blog for me but I can't end it without posting one of the picture I took of downtown Silver Spring, Maryland taken a while ago when I was learning long exposure photography. I took this photo from my seventh floor apartment balcony and I was very happy with the result at that time. But as I started learning more, I noticed that there were few mistakes which I could have corrected, foreground trees, overblown lights for example. But that was the idea when I started photography; practice, learn from your mistake and repeat the cycle. This picture is straight out of my camera without any heavy editing except cropping and resizing. If you have followed my blog in the past, you might know that I am not big fan of spending hours on the computer to edit pictures. Don't get me wrong, I also shoot in RAW mode and adjust colors and lights sometimes if necessary. I am not against the editing but I would like to keep it as natural as possible.

Night-Photography.jpg

Focal Length : 16 mm     ISO : 2500     Shutter speed : 10 sec     Aperture : f/22

Please leave comments or questions if you have any. Waiting to hear back from you. Happy Shooting and welcome back to my blog!

Setup I Used For Night Cityscape Shots

I always wanted to capture beautiful cityscapes, specially night cityscapes, because of the spectacular view of buildings with different lights and colors. This summer, when I was traveling to Cape code, MA, via New York, I quickly stopped by NYC and got a glimpse of Manhattan Midtown in the evening. Then my next stop was Boston downtown and there I got a chance to capture Boston downtown cityscape at night. I am writing this blog post to share my experience and ideas on how I captured those shots. First of all, when you want to capture long exposure night shots, you must have to have a sturdy tripod with you. Any shutter speed slower than your lens focal length usually results into blurry image if taken handheld (without using tripod). You may also want to consider wide angle lens as well to capture wide view of cityscape which looks pleasant than only few buildings (using telephoto lens). Let me tell you briefly what camera settings and gears I used to get a crisp and well lit shot.

Gears I use during night Cityscape shooting

1. Tripod (You need sturdy tripod to handle longer exposure. I used Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tipod in these shots.)

2. Wide Angle lens. (Wide angle lens enriches the view of cityscapes allowing to capture great variety of subjects. I used Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens)

3. Any DSLR camera that supports BULB shutter mode. (Most of the DSLRs support only up to 30 sec of shutter speed in Manual mode but sometimes you need longer than 30 sec shutter speed and in that case you need BULB shutter mode which most advanced DSLRs have these days. I used Nikon D700 FX camera.)

4. ND Filter (It is an optional device if you ever want to increase your exposure time. I didn't use filter for these shots.)

5. Shutter release cable or Wireless shutter release remote (I use shutter release cable almost every time I use my camera on Tripod. This will help me to reduce vibration on camera while pressing shutter release button on camera. Some photographers use 2 sec delay method (camera takes picture 2 sec after pressing shutter release button) which also works great but I feel that technique bit tedious.

6. Finally, Timer (usually, when you are shooting into BULB mode with your calculated Shutter speed, you may want to use timer not to go too long for shutter speed than calculated. I used my iPhone stopwatch for this purpose.)

When you have all the required gears, all you have to do is pickup the location, compose your shot and snap it. Location is one of the most important constraint to choose right composition. If you miss the right composition because of the location, all your hard work goes into vain. When I take night cityscape shots, I try to include wide range of objects such as bridges, ships, cruise etc to add up variety to the scene. Here I have included three shots along with its camera settings; first one is New York City view from the Empire State Building and the second one is of Boston Downtown.

New York Midtown (click the image to view full size)

Focal Length : 35 mm     ISO : 1600     Shutter speed : 1/2 sec     Aperture : f/11

Boston Downtown (click the image to view full size)

Focal Length : 35 mm     ISO : 200     Shutter speed : 13 sec     Aperture : f/4

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, I always welcome them and try to answer it back as soon as possible. Happy Shooting!

Turn That Dial And Experience Your Camera

This post is written by Guest Contributor, Terry Houton. If you are also interested in writing a guest blog, please reach out using the form in the Contact page.

A few years ago, when I first made the move from my little Kodak to the Nikon D40, it was a little intimidating. I had no formal background in photography whatsoever and absolutely no clue about the ISO, Aperture, Rule of Thirds or any of that technical mumbo jumbo. Fortunately, I had a couple of things going for me that would be a big help in that area. First, I had a background in IT that was somewhat similar in that when I started on that career path I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. As I have frequently done in my life, I threw myself into it with the mindset that I was either going to sink or swim. It's paid my bills for nearly 15 years now so I think I've done OK. Secondly, I had a good friend who I was able to lean on and ask plenty of questions when I needed to do so. Like most people that venture into the DSLR world, the first thing I did was turned the dial to Auto. As you would imagine, that allows you to just turn on your camera and shoot away. The problem with that setting is that it makes all of the decisions for you with speed, light settings, etc. and you won't always get the best shot possible. There are times where the exposure will not be correct because the processor is picking up something like light in the background, dark clothes, etc. and will make your pictures come out under or over exposed.

My suggestion to those who are really serious about learning the art of photography is to do what I did and put your nose into books, get on the internet or seek out any endless number of other resources for information regarding ISO, shutter speed, aperture and all of the otherwise techie stuff that will help you shoot better pictures. The last piece of advice that I would give you is to read your camera manual and learn how it works inside and out. It might not be the most thrilling read of your lifetime but it's well worthwhile.