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How to shoot fireworks … with your camera

Fireworks over Lake Marble Falls. Photo by Don Comedy


MARBLE FALLS — The Fourth of July means fireworks. While it’s fun to kick back and enjoy the show, you might be wondering, “How do I photograph those fireworks?”

Photographing fireworks brings many challenges, but you can overcome them with a little practice, planning and some trial and error. Plus, a few key pieces of equipment make the experience more fruitful.

First, this is night shooting, so don’t expect to simply aim your camera, press the button and get great shots. At night, even with bright fireworks, your camera is going to require several seconds to record a shot. So holding it by hand doesn’t work very well. Even if you think you’re holding your camera steady, it’s moving at least a little bit. And that “little bit” makes a big difference on the final photo.

So stabilize your camera with a tripod or a similar device. One option is using a smaller tripod, such as the Joby Gorillapod, which you can mount on different surfaces with its wrap-around legs.

Along with a tripod, consider a remote-cable release. Even with your camera stabilized on a tripod, pushing the shutter button can cause it to move. Another option is to use the timer on your camera to release the shutter.

OK, now that you have your camera stabilized and cable release attached, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. To take the best fireworks photos, you’ll have to switch the camera from one of the automatic settings to manual.

Now, one caveat. Some cameras have a “fireworks” setting, which might be an alternate way to take photos. Still, manual puts you in full control, and while this might seem intimidating to folks who are accustomed to using automatic features, it is a lot of fun and allows for more creativity.

Set the ISO rating to the lowest setting you can, typically 100 or 200. Check your camera manual if you don’t know how to do this. While it’s tempting to use a higher ISO because it’s more sensitive to light, the photo captures more “noise” or grain at the higher setting.

For the aperture setting (the opening of the lens), pick an f/8 or f/16, though you can do some experimenting. Some people prefer f/5.6. But in this range, you’ll probably be fine. And if you’re using digital, feel free to experiment a bit the first few shots and adjust from there.

Now, for the shutter speed. You really have some options. A time of a few seconds to 10 seconds will capture a nice grouping of fireworks. You can even go further with 30 seconds. If you’re on a cable release, you can experiment with the “bulb” setting in which you hold the release button down to keep the shutter open as long as you like and release it when you want it to close.

With a fireworks show lasting 15-30 minutes, you should have enough time to practice adjusting the aperture and shutter speed.

As for focus, find a point in the area of the fireworks or the fireworks themselves, then turn off the autofocus. Once you have the focus, you really shouldn’t need to adjust it when the fireworks are going off since they should be in the same basic area.

When it comes to framing the shots, take into consideration the height of the fireworks display. And don’t feel you have to just include the fireworks, pull back a bit and include some of the folks around you.

Also try to stay upwind of the fireworks, because as they go off, the smoke from the explosions will drift away from you and shouldn’t cloud your photos as much.

If you get the chance, scout the location during the day to get a better idea of where to take photographs and the basic layout.

One more thing: Take a small penlight with you so you can check your camera settings at night. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as trying to set your camera in the dark. A small flashlight can be a big help.

Be sure to share your photos on The Picayune’s Facebook page.