St. Johns River by Heather Hummel

St. Johns River by Heather Hummel
St. Johns River by Heather Hummel Photography

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Secret to Firework Photos That Snap Crackle and Pop

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

The 4th of July is a great time to pull out your camera to capture the fireworks. I'm letting you in on the secret to capturing professional level firework photos that snap, crackle, and pop! You will be the envy of your Facebook friends. (Note: these steps are geared to those with DSLR cameras who can adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.)

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

I personally love fireworks captured over water because of the element of reflection. The key to success is understanding the camera settings to use. So, how do the professionals get those firework photos without them being white, blurred streaks across the sky?

These are the 8 steps to take when photographing fireworks.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
1. Use a good telephoto lens, for example one that is longer than 200 mm. 

2. Set the Camera Mode to Manual.

3. Set the ISO to 100 or whatever the base ISO is for your camera (refer to the manual).

4. Set the Aperture to f/8.

5. Set the shutter speed to the Bulb setting. The Bulb mode can be found on DSLRs when the shutter is turned all the way to the slowest possible setting. (See the camera’s manuals for specific details.) 
This setting allows the shutter to stay open for as long as needed. It requires triggering it by pressing the shutter button, and then releasing it by pressing the shutter button again.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
6. Set the focus on the lens to Manual. 

7. Set the lens to focus on the center of the infinity sign. Note: Higher end cameras can accommodate infinity in different ways. This step is for more basic DSLR cameras.

8. Use a remote shutter release to open the shutter for a count of about 10 seconds then press the remote shutter release again to close the shutter.  (See Accessories below about remote shutter releases. They are less than $10 and one of the best purchases possible!)

Depending on the results, either slow down or speed up the shutter speed. 

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
Note that in all of these photos, I used a tripod and remote shutter release in order to reduce camera shake. The shutter times range from 10 seconds to a full 25 seconds, all with good results. 

Learning how to use the bulb setting and for how many seconds to keep the shutter open will take experimenting depending on the scene. The beauty of digital photography is that you can see the results immediately and adjust one way or the other, so there really is no losing at this game! 

In order to achieve even better results, add these accessories to your camera bag.

Filters: There will be situations where an filter will help to keep down white streak in the sky effect (over exposed fireworks). A neutral gradient graduated filter, such as this one by Tiffen, can help to shade the brightness of the fireworks while allowing more light on the foreground.
Tiffen 67mm Color Graduated Neutral Density 0.6 Filter

This example is a 67mm, be sure to get the right mm size for your lens(es).

Tripods:  I always use a tripod, such as Ravelli or Manfrotto, while on all of my low light photography shoots.

Ravelli APLT4 61-inch Light Weight Aluminum Tripod With Bag
 Manfrotto MKCOMPACTLT-BK Compact Tripod (Black)

Remote Shutter Release:
For under $10, I highly recommend picking up a remote shutter release. Having the remote shutter release adds to the reduction of camera shake. I use mine all the time in conjunction with the self-timer or Bulb setting.

This top one is an example of one for Canons.

FotoTech FTRC-6 IR Wireless Shutter Release Remote For Canon EOS 5DS, 5DR, 7D Mark II, EOS 6D, EOS 7D, EOS 70D, EOS 60Da, EOS 60D, EOS 5D Mark III, EOS 5D Mark II, SL1, T6s, T6i, T5i, T4i, T3i, T2i, T1i Digital SLRS(Replaces Canon RC-5 RC-6) with FotoTech Velvet Bag

And this is an example of one for Nikons.

FotoTech ML-L3 Wireless Shutter Release Remote For Nikon D750, D5500, D5300, D610, D7200, D7100, D3300, D3000, D3200, D5200, D5100, D5000, D7000, D60, D80, D90, D600, CoolPix P7800, Coolpix P7000, P6000, P7100, N65, N75, Coolpix 8400, 8800, Pronea S, Nuvis S, Nikon 1 J1, Nikon 1 J2 Nikon 1 V1 V2 V3 Digital SLRS with FotoTech Velvet Bag

Between the filters, tripod, and remote shutter release, your firework images will be on par with the pros!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!
Want to learn how to master low light photography and to capture your own low-light photos? My book MASTER LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY is available on Amazon.

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