I realize that I forgot to post an entry last Thursday, so, sorry about that. In honor of the holiday weekend that just passed, I decided to dig up some old pictures of fireworks for your viewing pleasure.
And, to make up for the missed post last week, I’ve decided to include EIGHT!! (8!!) photos with today’s update. I know, you’re totally amazed at my generosity, right?! Actually, it’s just because I liked them all, couldn’t decide which one I liked best for the picture of the day, and figured this is my only chance to ever post fireworks pictures, since in all likelihood this POTD blog will be long dead by next 4th of July.
(The full eight photos are only available if you’re reading this on http://davefry.net/potd … if you’re reading this on Facebook, there will just be the one. so if that’s the case, CLICK HERE to see the rest of them.)
Most of these are pictures of the annual 4th of July fireworks display over Lake Union in Seattle (including the pic posted on Facebook), although one of them was actually taken in a (very) small town in northern-central Washington called Pateros. That’s fruit-growing country, and they shoot off fireworks as part of their Apple Pie Jamboree in mid-July.
So, to start off (too late for that), I’ll state the obvious: taking pictures of fireworks is hard. Why is it hard? Well, a lot of reasons. First of all, it’s dark. That means you need long shutter speeds, which means you either need extremely steady hands or a tripod (or other steady surface). Second, they’re usually pretty far away. As in a lot of situations, our eyes play tricks on us. So fireworks that look really cool in the sky can look really small in the resulting picture, with a lot of empty black sky around it. Third, it can be really hard to find a good composition without “boring stuff” (like other people’s heads) in the way. You can of course be shameless about it and bust out a huge tripod or something similar, but I’ll be honest, I’m way too shy to do that, I don’t like the looks I get from people when I bust out my huge-ass camera in public like that. Fourth, and this is the kicker, most fireworks look like crap in pictures. Why? Because they are just points of light that move. It looks pretty to the eye, but when you just capture one instant, it’s pretty boring. Here’s an example. Those were pretty fireworks, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the picture. There are other reasons, but that’s a good list for now.
There’s two ways around that last one: One, you can use a slower shutter speed. Which means the shutter will be open longer, and the little dots of light will expose the “film” as they move. Similar to how headlights become lines of light rather than points in long exposures of cities and stuff (Like in this picture which isn’t mine.) Two, you can take pictures of the fireworks that have visible trails. Usually the sparkley gold ones and such. Those make for great pictures. Most of these pictures are some combination of both of those.
Now, before I scare too many people off, when I say “use a slower shutter speed”, I’m not talking like 45 seconds or more like you would need for lightning and nighttime city-scape pictures. I’m talking like 1/20th of a second. Some fireworks you can get away with using something as fast as 1/60th of a second. So we’re definitely in the realm of it being possible to take hand-held pictures with decent results. (These were all hand-held, although the camera was propped up on my knee to minimize hand-shake.) But it’s definitely longer than I’m usually comfortable with. (I’ve found that anything faster than 1/200th of a second is pretty much safe. Between 1/100th and 1/200th is hit or miss for me, and anything slower is usually a bit blurry unless I’ve got something like a steady knee to use.)
Now, keep in mind that just using your camera’s light meter and default settings won’t work here. The light meters in cameras try to make basically the average of the whole scene come out with a certain amount of brightness. So it’ll try to use super long shutter speeds in order to achieve that. But, since you as the photographer know that the picture that you WANT is predominantly dark, with a few bright points in it, you just have to set the settings appropriately, and let it rip. (It’s okay if it takes several test shots to get the exposure the way you want it – that’s why digital is awesome. Taking fireworks pictures with a 35mm is damned near impossible unless you just get lucky enough to get the settings right.)
Anyway, enjoy the pics!
Notes for original image: Canon EOS Rebel XT, 18-55 mm kit lens. 1/6s (handheld), f/5.0, ISO 1600. Focal length: 44mm.