Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fireworks Photography

Fireworks Photography

With the Chinese New Year just around the corner, I am posting this article to fire up your festival celebration mood. Wishing everyone Gong Xi Fa Cai and a very prosperous Rabbit Lunar New Year!!

Although it is not very common to see fireworks display during the Chinese New Year, at least not in Malaysia where most of the people leave the big cities and celebrate the festival in their hometown, there will still be opportunity to photograph fireworks display. In this article, I would like to share with you a few tips of Fireworks Photography.

Everybody loves fireworks. It is so beautiful and spectacular that it often evokes emotions in people and is best to fire up a festive atmosphere. Many assumed photographing fireworks to be tough. Well, I would say give it a try and you will find that it is not as tough as you thought. But of course, you will need some preparation if you want to photograph a fireworks display successfully. Although a DSLR camera provides more options and controls when photographing fireworks, a compact camera can do a decent job too. The two pictures below were captured with my Canon IXUS860IS compact camera back in year 2009, which was also my first attempt in Fireworks Photography.

Fireworks captured with my Canon IXUS860IS Compact Camera
Fireworks Captured with my Canon IXUS860IS Compact Camera

Tip #1: Use a Tripod
As you can see from the above pictures captured with my compact camera, all you need is a tripod to hold your camera firm when photographing fireworks because you would like to have a slower shutter speed to allow the movement of the lights from the fireworks to paint onto your picture, forming beautiful patterns as a result of the fireworks explosion. Estimate which part of the sky will the fireworks be, focus your camera towards that section and lock it with your tripod. Set your camera to slow shutter speed settings and get ready to push the shutter button when the fireworks display starts.

Tip #2: Get there early, Get the best spot
Usually in a fireworks event, there will be tons of people waiting around the display area. You will want to get the best spot for photographing the fireworks. Get there early and get the best spot. I remember arriving at the fireworks viewing arena 4 hours in advance when I took the two pictures above. As mentioned in Tip #1, you need to estimate where the fireworks will be fired to and fix your camera to a tripod. Give yourself more time by arriving earlier and survey for the best location to fix your camera.

Tip #3: Use a Remote Shutter Release Device (or at least use the auto timer setting)
For DSLR owners, if you want to capture more decent shots of the spectacular fireworks, get yourself a remote shutter release device. You will find it so useful when photographing fireworks. All you need to do now is just press and hold the remote shutter release button when the fireworks has been fired to the sky and release the button when you think you had enough of the fireworks in your one picture. But remember to set your camera to a smaller aperture size (bigger F number) to avoid over-exposing your picture. I used to set my aperture size to about F/16 to F/20 which allows me to open my shutter for more than 5 seconds without over-exposing my picture. If you do not have a remote shutter release device or if you are using a compact camera, use the auto timer setting to avoid camera shake. What I did with my compact camera was to estimate when the fireworks will fire, and hit the shutter button when the fireworks was released, before explosion. This way, you will need to pay more attention and fine-tune your estimation as the fireworks display goes to get decent shots of the fireworks.

Estimate where the fireworks will explode
Know how you want the fireworks to show in your picture and compose
Include foreground objects to make your fireworks picture looks more interesting

Tip #4: Composition
There are several ways in composing your fireworks shot. You can zoom in to the fireworks to get a single firework explosion into a picture or you can do the opposite and go wide angle to include the surroundings of the fireworks display arena. You can keep your camera shutter open longer to include more than one fireworks into your picture (using a remote shutter release device makes this a lot easier) or you can also zoom in real close to shoot the sparks of the fireworks. The below pictures are some of my way of composing fireworks display.

Yokohama Fireworks Display - Wide Composition
Wide Fireworks Display Composition
Wide Fireworks Display Composition
Zooming in to the fireworks explosion
Zoomed in Fireworks Composition Style
Zoomed in Fireworks Composition
Longer shutter speed to include more fireworks into one picture
Longer Shutter Speed for several fireworks
Capturing the spark
Capturing the spark
Magical spark
Capturing the spark

Tip #5: Turn OFF the Flash
The reason is obvious. You are photographing the fireworks (a very bright subject). Turn off your flash. It will not do you any good but to trick your camera for a faster shutter speed. The fireworks is bright enough for your camera.

Tip #6: Video Capturing the Fireworks
Most of the compact cameras have video capturing function and most of the newer production DSLR allows you to capture HD video too. When you are tired of photographing fireworks, why not switch it to video recording mode and record the fireworks display? You do not need to capture the entire 30 minutes fireworks display in video which will be very boring to watch later. Just capture some couple minutes short video clips and you will be able to watch them at anytime you like in the future repeatedly. Below are a few video clips of Tokyo Bay Fireworks Display that I have captured with my compact camera back in 2009.

I hope you enjoy this article and find it useful for your next Fireworks Photography event. Below are a few more pictures to share.

Yokohama Fireworks Show 2010
Yokohama Fireworks Show 2010
Yokohama Fireworks Show 2010
Yokohama Fireworks Show 2010
Yokohama Fireworks Show 2010

Again, wishing you 恭喜发财 !! 万事如意 !!

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