Photography with a bang – but no flash!

It’s almost Bonfire Night here in the UK, and lots of you will be wanting to take pictures of the fireworks.  So how do you get great shots of them?  Well, here are some useful tips for you.

Whatever your camera, try and get upwind of the display area.  Smoke from bonfires and exploding fireworks can reduce contrast both for photography and for just viewing.  You’ll see the display much better if the smoke is blowing away from you.

If you use a camera that has a Fireworks “Scene Mode” setting, then use that.  Your camera manufacturer will have selected the best options for you.  If your camera doesn’t have a Fireworks setting, or if you want more control, one of the most important things to do is to turn off your flash.  Flash is for things that don’t have their own light source, and that can’t be said about fireworks.

"Roman candle 2" by Derek Gale

You don’t need large fireworks to get great images.  This image is of a small Roman candle in a back garden.  I got as close as I could, without being unsafe, and composed for the angle the sparks were coming out at.

The next tip is to use a long exposure.  The spread of light from most fireworks takes quite a time, so a long exposure catches that spread.  I don’t worry about a tripod, as at public displays they can get in the way.  I like the wobbly lines that hand-holding a long exposure gives.

"Roman candle 1" by Derek Gale

This garden Roman candle has a 2 second exposure.  It’s caught the dancing light really well.

The next tip is to set your camera on to Manual Focus, and focus on where the fireworks will be.  Your autofocus system won’t be able to focus on a firework that hasn’t gone off yet, and may not respond fast enough to one that’s just gone off, so you may miss the shot.  Setting the camera to manual focus, and pre-focusing, means your shutter will fire just when you want it to.

"Star shell series" by Derek Gale

I was able to get the right timing on this series of star shells because I had preset the camera to the correct focus.  I saw how far away the fireworks would be, and focused on a nearby streetlight that was about the same distance away.

Next, use Manual Exposure.  Your camera will get very confused by the darkness of the sky and will, if you use an automatic exposure setting, want to turn it into a mid-grey tone.  Manual exposure gives you control over the shutter speed, and aperture.

Having set your camera to manual exposure, use a small lens aperture.  I find something like F11 gives good results.  It also helps, because of the greater depth of field, if you have slightly missed your focusing point.

"Star shell" by Derek Gale

Using a small lens aperture helped all these star shell bursts be nicely in focus.  It also made sure that any ambient light was not recorded, so the background came out properly black.

Finally, use a low ISO.  Having a high ISO setting will reduce your image quality by introducing noise into shadow areas.  There can be lots of shadow areas with firework photography!  If you have AutoISO turned on then turn it off.

Whether you are photographing or just watching, have a safe and enjoyable time on Bonfire Night.

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