Monday, June 23, 2014

How To Photograph Fireworks For Canada Day or 4th Of July!

The annual Canada Day and Fourth Of July celebrations are upon us, so it's a perfect opportunity to get great photographs of fireworks!  Here are some tips on how to do just that!


#1 most important step! USE A TRIPOD!

I can't stress that enough. If you don't have a tripod, find something you can steady the camera on, or you will not get any sharp images.

Choose a good vantage point to take photographs from is also important.  Try to find an area that has as little ambient light as possible (street lights, businesses, etc) so you don't get light leaking into the lens.

In Saint John, there are a few options.
I'm going to assume they are launching from market square, but it might also be from long wharf. If you want to get the Harbour Bridge in the frame, go by the Harbour Passage interpretation centre/gazebo thing near the base of Bentley Street and Chesley Drive. However, I've found this from vantage point, the Bridge does cut through the fireworks depending on how high in the sky they are. If you want just the fireworks with the boardwalk in them, head to under the harbour bridge at HMCS Brunswicker. From atop Fort Howe, you will get good shots of the fireworks with the west side of the port in there. Another high vantage point that would get the boardwalk would be atop Martello Tower on the West Side.
For those in Fredericton, you have two options. Down by the lighthouse, you get a nice angle where you can get the Westmoreland Street Bridge in the background(as below), or you can go across to the North Side and get the Downtown in the background!

For those elsewhere, just find a nice vantage point that gives you lots of space for the fireworks in the sky, or a nice view with the city scape.  If you've got a famous monument or building, by all means, put it in the frame!

-most of your shots will be with your 18-55/18-70mm lenses, more likely at 55mm or 70mm. That way you can zoom in a bit on the fireworks. You can use your 70-300 if you want to zoom in on the bursts or try some creative techniques!


-for ISO, you can use 100 as the fireworks are very bright, up to 400 if you like. If you are using a point and shoot style camera, not an SLR, i would recommend the lowest ISO possible(50-100)
-for WHITE BALANCE, try DAYLIGHT(SUN icon) if you want a warmer tone, or use INCANDESCENT/TUNGSTEN(little bulb icon) to get truer colours. FLOURESCENT BALANCE(long glowing tube) gives a bit in between. See example image below with the various whitebalances. If you shoot in RAW, you can always change this later.

-use manual focus. as the camera won't be able to lock the focus on the fireworks. Let one firework go up and focus on that, then don't change your focus. If you don't have a manual focus, lock the autofocus on the buildings in the background.

-Use your remote control or cable release! This will help prevent camera shake that can happen even when you are on the tripod.


I hope you find these tips useful!
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-Use manual shooting mode(M), as the more automatic modes won't be able to get the exposure right.
-for exposure, start by setting your aperture/F-Stop to F16 if using ISO 400, F11 for ISO 100. (if you are using a point and shoot camera, you may not be able to go to F11, go to F8) If the fireworks are too bright, select a higher aperture number to darken things down.
-for shutter speed, it all depends on how many bursts you want to capture. Choose a speed between 1-2 seconds to record a single burst, up to thirty seconds for multiple bursts. Also, the longer the shutter speed, the more ambient exposure will be recorded, so if you want the cityscape or crowd, longer speeds will do it. 

Just be careful not to go TOO long, as you may start getting too much ambient light from the city scape or surroundings recorded. It can also being to record smoke or haze in the sky from the fireworks.

5 seconds recorded two bursts

30 Seconds recorded some of the crowd along with the bridge, and the fireworks.

Over thirty seconds began to record the haze in the sky and wash out the fireworks.
The exposure for the fireworks will also be the same for exhibition and fair rides, so if you have one in your city or town, incorporate them in the photo as well!

Once you've gotten a few good shots, you could try throwing on your telephoto zoom and try doing some shots where you zoom the lens during the exposure (below) or jiggling and rotating the camera.

You may also be handing our sparklers to the kids, check out this blogpost on photography fun with sparklers
If you have any questions, send me an email

Happy shooting, and enjoy your national celebrations!

Noel Chenier
Photographer and teacher
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