Friday, June 29, 2012

No. 60 Shooting Fireworks: The Basics

Kenmore Fireworks 7/4/2010

In this tutorial on "Shooting Fireworks" I will go over some things to concider when planing your evening night out under the phospherous sparklers, your camera settings, list accessories that will help you improve your chances at capturing good quality images for beginning photo enthusiats to more experienced photo enthusists.

Happy Holidays and have a Safe Night out Shooting!!!

Firework displays are definitely spectacular events to watch and photograph. They happen at various times of the year and happen in various lengths and show sizes. You can find them on New Years Eve, at Home Town Holidays, outdoor Sporting Events, 4th of July Celebrations, Outdoor Concerts, and even at theme parks.

Shooting Fireworks Basics

#1 Planning your Evening
       The more time you invest in collecting the details prior to the show will increase your photography success and help take away many stress points during your evening. Its a pretty import factor hence it's my #1 Tip.There will be plenty of other photographers and families out that evening making it more difficult to navigate the area once everyone starts arriving.
 Location … Location, Location.... is important. Select your city or park and SCOUT the area a day or two ahead of time.  By checking out & scouting the area you can find the best spot to setup your viewpoint. If you are headed to a familiar spot then you will remember where the fireworks are best scene from or at least know where they will be fired from. If this is your first time, you can look for the pit area with the stacks of 3 foot pipe being setup. Walking the grounds look for an area that is clear from trees and power lines, banners etc for an unobstructed view of the show. If you want to add depth or scale to your shot then look for that lonely tree or tree line, building etc. If there is a water feature consider the reflections of the fireworks in the lake, river, fountain as well. In cities with tall buildings you might get reflections in the windows or shiny metal facades.
Entry and Exit Strategy. Seems like a war room plan, but when hundreds or thousands of people congregate in small area within a few hours and then depart at the same time you will need a plan.
The day you head out to scout the location bring along a printed map version of the location with neighborhood streets legible. You might be able to drive right up to the park that day but during the actual fireworks there is a good chance that the parking lot and surrounding streets will be closed to traffic except for Staff, Volunteer, Emergency Crews, Media, VIPs, and vendors. Keep an eye out for street closure signs as you arrive cause you might end up wanting to be south or east of the park anyway for your view vs following the crowds. Look in the local paper & search online for information about the event, ask a park ranger, call the recreational office, police department about planned lane & road closures. Find out about prohibited items. It would certainly be pain to have to carry items back to your car if the event didn't allow coolers, coolers of certain sizes, chairs, backbacks etc. Remember the more you know before leaving your house the better :)

#2 Getting There
Because firework displays attract a large number of people both young and old, photographers and non photographers to the grassy knoll its best to show up early and "claim" your spot.
-Clean out your car beforehand and leave your valuables (laptop, iPods, iPads, extra camera gear etc) at home.
-Do not bring Everything but the Kitchen Sink
If you haven't used a lens or accessory in weeks, why would you need it for a 30min shoot at night??
-A smaller setup will keep your camera & lens trained on the pyro-action versus having your head in the camera bag.
-Arrive Early & Stay Late

Continue Reading Tips #3-#6

#3 Da Gear
You can create interesting shots with a point & shoot camera, smartphone or iPad but I am mainly focusing on DSLR cameras gear ranging from intro-level to pro-sumer models.
In the camera:  - Fully Charged Battery (the more the better)
                          - In camera formatted memory cards (the more the better)
                          -Knowledge of how to change your settings

In your Camera Bag:
                           -Your camera, Point & shoot, video camera
                           -The lenses with the focal lengths you want to shoot with
                           -Infrared or cable release
                           -1 to 2 flash lights
                           -Piece of black styro foam that covers your largest lens element
                           -Lens cleaning kit of microfiber cloth, blower
                           -extra batteries and EMPTY and FORMATTED memory cards
                           -Medium sized Bathtowel to lay under neath your bag in case an
                              item falls out, keeps moisture away as well
                            -The CORRECT mounting plate or screw to attach your body or lens to the tripod

Tripod or stabilizer :
                              -During your long exposure shots of the fireworks your camera will need to be
                                stable. Shooting with a tripod or from stabil platform is imperative to keep your
                                shots. [Note a rock, park bench, car hood or roof wont support your lens
                                you will need a bean bag or something similar to place under your lens element
                                to prop it up]
                                -The CORRECT mounting plate or screw to attach your body or lens to the tripod

Clothing & Snacks:  -You will be on your feet, sitting on your butt, for a few hours. So plan for
                                    the changes in conditions and weather
                                  -Until you have had foot and lower back pain you don't realize how much a
                                    good pair of shoes can save your photo shoot
                                  -A balmy warm afternoon calling for shorts and t-shirt can change into a breezy
                                    cool evening leading up to the show. Plan on bring clothing that will keep you
                                    warm and comfortable.
                                   -Apply sunscreen, stay hydrated, bring some protein rich snacks to hold you
                                     over  till the show ends
Note: All the fancy gear and a spectacular pyro show can't fix a photographers crappy mood. If you are rushed or in a bad mood or uncomfortable your photos WILL REFLECT that.

#4 The Setup
                                     -Setup your tripod and get your legs level
                                     -Attach your camera body and lens to the tripod
                                     -Set your camera to bulb mode and attach your cable release
                                     -As showtime aproaches take some shots to figure out your composition.
                                       For these test shots i will crank the ISO very high so I don't have to wait
                                       very long for an image on the lcd. Check your horizon, see what is in the
                                       foreground and background of your shots and make adjustments to your aim.
                                       -most people tend to watch fireworks while seated but there are those
                                        spectators that like to stand right up in front of you or those late arrivals
                                        with stroller and kids in tow that seem to creep into your shot as well.
                                         Basically its not set it and forget it. Be prepared to change things up.
                                        -15min before showtime return your camera to your firework settings
                                        -Look up and enjoy the show!!!

#5 The Camera Settings

                                          -Set your camera to Bulb Mode and connect your cable release
                                          -Change your image quality to RAW
                                          -Select a Low ISO setting
                                          -Switch Auto-Focus to Manual
                                          -Dial in an Aperture between f8-f13 for large DOF

#6 Showtime
 Make sure you are ready to take pictures of the first fireworks. The first round of fireworks are usually smaller elements to let everyone know the show is starting. Use those initial fireworks to find your focus value, so you can set it and forget it. Shooting in Bulb mode will allow you to adjust the exposure time on the fly since the the mirror will stay up only as long as your holding down  the release, IR Remote or Shutter Button. Most of your images will range in seconds from 2s~10s. There isn't really a formula for fireworks since each show is different and each pyro shot will have a different color, size and shape.
Depress your shutter when you hear the thud of the propellent charge launching the shell into the air and release the shutter once the firework has lost its shape. You can change the length of exposure through out the show to either single out individual shells or have multiple shells go off in a single frame.
Keeping your ISO low is ok for fireworks since they are bright enough to be captured just like a lightning strike. If your reaching >8s+ exposure times and start to see in your LCD preview some ambient light and features coming into view, you can use a black card in between shells to kill all light for less noise and ambient light getting past the lens.

[Note: Shooting in RAW quality will give you the best files without compression, but a long exposure does take its time to clear from your camera's buffer and to write to the card. I recommend using Class 6 and above read/write cards of 35MB+.....a 10sec exposure can take 10s to write to a card, so for ten seconds your just standing there unable to shoot an image. If you are not planning on an image larger than 11x14 in print you can shoot on High JPEG and have a faster write speed to get back to shooting the show]

Shooting video of the fireworks show is also fun. I would not switch between stills and video on the same camera body. Either have two DSLR bodies or a combo of DSLR and video camera. Setup a second tripod, get your child, friends involved in the documenting the evening by passing them the video recorder and just tell them to aim it at the fireworks.
The 30min from start to finish will go by in a flash so don't chimp your night away looking at your lcd screen, rather enjoy the show.

There are many available compositions from horizontal to vertical, wide shots, high power zoom shots, to trail shots, even swirling your camera around and zooming in or out during an exposure can all result in fun and interesting images. Keep shooting and have fun with it. And next year you can revisit your images, look at the settings and try something new that time around.

Thanks for reading my Tutorial on "Shooting Fireworks the Basics" and I hope you are able to take some of the tips with you on your next fireworks shoot.

Have a Photographic Worthy Week!!!!


Puget Exposure

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