Happy New Year everyone! This is going to be a quick post about photographing fireworks, and making the best of what you get. It also includes some tips for people who just want to go to bed early.
Tip #1 – Arrive early. In most places, there will be a lot of competition for places to view and photograph the fireworks. If the fireworks are starting “when it gets dark enough”, like the 4th of July in the USA, you want to arrive about 2-3 hours before dark and set up. If it is at midnight, like New Years Eve, you want to be in place at least 3 hours ahead of time, depending on how popular the spot is.
However, if you are photographing from a place you own or rent, you are fine. I like to use my apartment window because #1 – I can set up during the daylight, and #2 – January is cold, and I want to sip my champagne in peace.
Tip #2 – Fireworks are a big light source. This light will bounce around and can create reflections or illuminate things you don’t want seen. If you are shooting through a window, the fireworks can light up your room and cause reflections in the glass. Use a black cloth to eliminate this reflection as much as possible. I like to tape the cloth around the lens and to the glass, if possible. If you don’t have something that is black, use the darkest color available.
Tip #3 – Find your settings early. My go-to is iso200, F/8, 3 seconds. I like 3 second exposures.
Tip #4 – If you can leave your camera, use a self timer. I prefer to use the internal timer when possible (my D800 and D750 both have internal self timers). My older cameras do not. So I set the camera to iso200, F/8, 3 seconds, and set the self timer to start a 35 minute exposure starting at about 11:55 and ending around 12:30. The camera thinks the shutter is being held down and takes back-to-back 3 second exposures, and I get to enjoy the fireworks or sleep. In general, I like my self timers for purposes like this (they also work great with sunsets when you want to photograph them and watch them – this lets you enjoy the event with your significant other). Self timers are also great when you can set things up early, then enjoy some adult beverages which may otherwise prevent you from taking the images.
Tip #5 – If you are trying to take the lazy aproach, be prepared to work with what you get.
Expanding on Tip #5, 2 years ago I set everything up on a self timer, taped a dark cloth to the window, and went to bed. When I woke up, I had about 300 photos, only 100 of which had fireworks. But, the tape I was using didn’t hold, so the 100 fireworks images all looked like this.
While it was disappointing, the right half of the image turned out, so there was hope. Since I knew that the D800 has a crazy high resolution, and I can make big prints from even a vertical crop of a horizontal image, I did just that.
I like the results. Especially considering the non-ideal situation that caused these to be my only options. I am setting up one of my cameras for the fireworks this year to try to get something similar.
As I write this, there is about 9 hours remaining in the year. I’m going to spend the next few hours getting 3-4 cameras set up and ready, then probably sit down for a relaxing day. Once the cameras are set up, I’ll make a post on Instagram with what the setup looks like.
Happy New Year! And best of luck in 2017.