Friday, July 5, 2013

After the fireworks are over! Are you frustrated with your photos?

It is now the 5th of July and many people have woken up and taken a look at their photos from last night.  High expectations of killer fireworks shots, but not getting what they were expecting. I posted an image from our local show on Facebook last night and had a lot of people commenting and emailing me questions about how to shoot fireworks correctly.

I know that many web sites posted "how to" posts over the last week, but I thought it might be helpful to look backwards and show you how I got nice shots, and also the throw aways. Yes, you see good shots of fireworks from myself and others, but I guarantee you that we all have lots of throw-aways too.

Let's look at some of the bad photos first.

Have you taken any fireworks photos like this? With way too much light coming into the camera and you end up with just a blown out mess? Don't worry, we all have. This particular shot was taken during te grand finale, which is a great time to watch the fireworks, but honestly, not the best time to shoot photographs. With the grand finale, you usually end up with too much light in the sky and too much smoke which has not had time to clear away. may have photos like this with some fireworks in the sky, not quite bright enough and with none of your surroundings visible.

And since you can not predict the show, you probably fired off shots where the placements of the fireworks were not ideal. Again, this happens to the best of us. Don't despair, just keep shooting and assume that you will have throw-aways.

I included this photo, because even though it is a decent fireworks shot, the lines are distracting. Don't get me wrong, this was a fun firework to watch live, with the light flying out in all directions, but photographically  I am not loving it.

And then, there are the distractions. You will notice that in the photo above, I got a nice shot of the fireworks in the sky, but I have lights from houses and some other elements which draw the viewer's eye away from the burst.

So...using Adobe Photoshop, I removed the distractions (using the spot healing brush) which included:

1. The lights from the houses
2. Some stray light hitting someone's clothing
3. A garage on the left
4. A blue dot in the sky (which could be a star or plane, but I liked the image better without it)
5. Power lines in the lower left of the sky

Here is the finished image.

So now let's talk about how I shot the images and what worked and why it worked. First of all, let me tell you about my camera setup and settings:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f4
Tripod: Gitzo tripod and head
Shutter Release: Canon Remote Switch
Memory Card: Lexar 32GB 1000x

In order to take these types of photos, you must be shooting from a tripod. You will also want a cable release to avoid shaking the camera with each shutter press. It is also way easier to watch the show and push the cable release button vs. being hunkered over your camera. I set the camera to bulb mode so that I could control the shutter speed by the during of the press on the cable release. If you tried to shoot fireworks in automatic mode or aperture priority, the camera will determine the "proper" shutter speed based on the moment you hit the shutter. If there is not burst in the sky and it is very dark, the camera will determine that it needs a REALLY long exposure. But then if a cluster of big bright bursts occurs during that long exposure, you will end up with an overexposed mess. Shooting in bulb mode lets you control that. If you see a large cluster of bright fireworks, you can let go quicker to stop the exposure. Inversely, if you have nothing bright in the sky, you can hold the shutter open longer until you get something interesting in the frame.

You might also be wondering about where to focus your camera. I usually prefocus on something in the distance (trees or something that will be a similar distance as the fireworks). I then make sure that the camera is not set in autofocus any more. This way I have achieved a fixed focus point and the camera will stay with that until I choose to change it.

 A nice burst taken at ISO 250, f5.6, for 4 seconds.

Another thing to keep in mind is that fireworks by themselves can be a little boring. I purposely positioned myself so that I would have some trees in the foreground and even wanted to get some photos of the people watching the fireworks.  In this shot, I relied on someone else's flash to light the spectators. (It is also important to not be downwind of the show, so that you are not in the path of all the smoke.)

Another shot showing a hint of the spectators but highlighting the fireworks. I used Adobe Photoshop to bring out the shadows in the lower half of the image.

So next time you have the chance to shoot fireworks, I hope that you will remember these tips and get those killer shots you were hoping for. It isn't easy, but it is really rewarding when you do get it. And if the next fireworks opportunity is not until July 4, 2014, bookmark this and come back to it next year. I hope this all makes sense and helps you get that much better for the next show!


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the Umbra said...

Thanks Jeff. I tried my first ever night/fireworks shoot last night. Got a couple only shots that I felt were decent at all...but clearly need to use a tripod and remote trigger in the future.

Do you ever have issues with wind...even with the tripod? I found the end of my camera getting caught in the winds of SF last night. Kind of frustrating.

Thanks for your post... I'm glad that I had my settings right at least!

Nigel said...

Great little blog Jeff :0)

Anonymous said...

what lens did you use?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Ooops - I forgot to add the lens specs. I have done that now. I used the Canon 24-105mm f4 lens.

Dale G said...

Jeff, good post! Another helpful item that I try to follow is if you have the ability to approach the fireworks from multiple directions, pick the one that is upwind! That way the smoke moves away. I didn't have a great foreground yesterday, but the wind was perfect. I've got one of the best sets of bursts I've captured in awhile

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Dale - great tip. I will add that now. I would love to see your photo. :)

Kent Squires said...

Many of your "Good" photographs have substantial chromatic aberration and banding. Would you address this issue? Thanks.

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Kent, Any chromatic aberrations or banding that you see would most likely be caused by the compression of these images. I intentionally compress and resize the images for my blog to make them easier to load and to keep people from taking and printing them. Make sense?

Marcos Meneghetti said...

Thank you so much for you tips. I will try to do this on 14th july. It's a French National Day.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget to clean your lens or your shots will streak.

Charlotte said...

Thanks for the tips. Of course I read them today 7/6

Dale said...

That is a lot of help, Thank you i will save this for future information.