How To Photograph Fireworks

Ok peeps, have you ever wanted to capture fireworks so you can enjoy them again and again? Despite your best efforts, do your photos always come out blurry? Well, here I am to shed a little light on the subject.

I realize that we are only in the first part of December, but January 1 is pretty much right around the corner. Many cities celebrate the coming of the New Year by setting off fireworks displays. Get your cameras and tripods, it’s time to get some practice in.

One thing that is especially abundant this time of year are Christmas lights. They actually provide a perfect medium for getting things dialed in on your DSLR. Really, there are only a couple differences between snapping pictures of Christmas lights and taking shots of fireworks; motion and elevation. Stationary light displays are far easier to shoot, but the concept is still the same. Also, most light displays are limited to the tallest tree, or the highest peak of a roofline.

The beauty of using a DSLR is that you will have instant confirmation that you are on the right track. You don’t need to wait to develop film, so the learning curve with taking pics of fireworks is actually quite steep.

Here is a simple numbered checklist to follow:

1. Use a Tripod

You’ll be using longer shutter speeds and the reason why your photos always turn out blurry is because it is nearly impossible to hold a camera perfectly still for the whole exposure.

2. Remote Release

You can always use the timer on your camera to save yourself some scratch, but why would you want to have to keep setting the stupid thing? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to press a button whenever you’d like to snap a photo? Most cameras have the capability of adding a remote that allows you to control the shutter on demand. Do yourself a favor and invest in this accessory, you’ll be glad that you did.

3. Frame Your Shot

This is much easier with Christmas lights since they are stationary. You already know that fireworks can be relatively unpredictable, but that is precisely what makes it fun. Scope out your location beforehand, watch your horizons, and pick a vertical or horizontal orientation for your camera and stick with it. In my experience, vertical tends to yield better results for fireworks.

4. Focal Length

This is probably the most difficult aspect of firework photography. You simply don’t know where to focus. Try to get a feel for where fireworks are commonly breaking and focus on that area of the display.

5. Aperture

The misconception is that you need a fast lens to photograph fireworks. Actually, fireworks emit a significant amount of light, and mid to small range apertures tend to work best. Try to stick around f/8 to f/16 for best results.

6. Shutter Speed

A remote is what yields the best results. Switch your camera to “bulb mode.” This keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold down the release. Start holding the button as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding for maximum results.

7. ISO

Low ISO is best. Set your camera on 100 and forget it!

8. Turn Off Your Flash

There is no point to using it when you are snapping pics of fireworks. Besides, it only travels a few yards anyway, and if you are that close to the fireworks, you have other problems.

9. Manual Mode is Best

Autofocus seems easy, but I guarantee you’ll miss out on a lot of good pictures. Only when you change your focal length will you have to change your focus.

10. Experiment and Learn

Try new things. Maybe you’ll figure something out that is really cool.

That’s it for now. Let me know how it goes…

I Just Had Tons Of Fun Taking Pictures Of A Wedding Party

Strangely I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa of all places. Most of the time I’m just passing through.

This time I was just hanging out at a dog park with my best buddy. I love to give him a chance to stretch his legs from time to time when I’m traveling. It’s definitely not fair to keep him on leash all the time. I’m absolutely loving watching him interact with the other doggies at the park. He is having the time of his life.

Being a photographer, I never go anywhere without a camera. I tend to capture life moments whenever I get the opportunity. Too many of my friends are always saying, “man, I really wished I had a camera with me.” I decide to break out the D90 and shoot some stills of Dempsey, my champion Doberman Pinscher.

Action shots of a dog at play really show the true personality of specific breeds. I’m using the burst mode to click off photos in quick succession. My philosophy is to always take as many pictures as possible and sort and edit later. You never know what you’ll capture until you start taking pictures. I know it sounds so clichĂ©, but it is so true.

Dempsey is chasing a Pharaoh Hound around the park and they are both loving every moment. Dogs are like kids sometimes. All the playing and exercising eventually catches up with them and they just want to sack out in the evening. I just know that all the exercise is going to do wonders for the next 5 hours of my journey. Dempsey will probably just be snoring instead of hanging his head out the window.

So, I’m standing there talking to the owner of the Pharaoh Hound and we both watch as a stretch Hummer pulls up to the park. No less than 16 people dressed to the nines hop out of that thing. It reminded me of that time I was at the circus and about 20 clowns jumped out of an old VW Beetle. I head over to the vehicle to get a good look (I am a car nut) and it’s clear that the wedding party is trying to find the perfect spot for a group shot. Being the photographer that I am, I offer my services to the happy couple. They are totally loving the fact that I happened to be at the park with a decent camera. They told me that they were just planning on grabbing someone and having them shoot some pictures with one of their cell phones.

The beauty about the digital age that we live in is that you can capture those moments in time so easily. I think back to my grandparents who really don’t have much of anything for photos of themselves when they got married. We’re so spoiled nowadays and so many things are taken for granted.

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Back to the wedding party…By this point everyone is in position for a group formal shot and I definitely grabbed some winners. Now for the fun part. Candids. Everyone is coming up with ideas and the groom gets this idea to launch his new bride in the air as I take pics. Turns out they met on the cheerleading team in college.

What happened next is epic.

Tim, the groom, gets his best man (another former cheerleader) to stand on the other side of his new bride. So Julie, the bride, put one foot in the interlocked hands of Tim and the other foot in the best man’s interlocked hands. They count to 3 as they simultaneously hurl Julie skyward. At the apex of her trajectory she does a kick and starts to get into position for her landing.

Now the hilarious part. Her dress is so fluffed up with tulle that she looks like a snowball with arms in the sky. The two men catch her as she returns to Earth and instantly everyone is just laughing their heads off. I had my camera in burst mode for the whole thing and the entire group huddled around as I replayed my captured images. We were all just rolling with laughter.

I grab an email address and tell the adventurous couple that I’ll email the best shots when I get back to my studio. They offer to pay me and I tell them that I couldn’t possibly accept their money. They told me that they had to give me something for helping them out and I told them a beer from their Hummer would be sufficient payment. They oblige, thank me and pile back in to be whisked away to the next destination.

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