By Jim Cutler
A beginner can get great fireworks shots on the first try.
It’s not difficult, but you need to follow the all steps to get a good picture. I have tried to explain it in beginner’s language. If something is unclear, just ask and I’ll try to answer. Go get some great fireworks shots!
Grab your DSLR camera and a tripod. Write out these instructions in YOUR OWN words. Put the steps into your own language to teach yourself and make them even more understandable: 1) Set your camera’s ISO setting to manual and as low a setting as it goes. This means a setting of ISO 50, 100 or 200 will be lowest depending on your camera. 2) Move your focus switch from auto to manual so the focus doesn’t “hunt” when aiming at the sky. Manually focus your lens on infinity. You can verify this by looking at any distant light or other object, focus on a far away light or anything distant and leave it there. Note that turning the focus all the way to the end often goes past good focus. There is sometimes a little “play” at the end where things go a little out of focus again. So take the time to aim at something far away, and manually get your focus perfect.
3) Now that your focus is set, set your camera to ‘M” or “manual mode”. Most DSLR cameras offer you choices of setings with these letters: P, A, S, M. Some say: P, Av, Sv, etc. It’s ok if your camera doesn’t show those exact choices as long as you know that what you want is “M” for Manual mode. (You don’t wan’t P for program mode.)
4) Set your f-stop to f8 or f11.
5) Last setting is the “speed” setting. You can set your speed at 5 to 8 seconds. That’s not “1/5th” to “1/8th” of a second but rather 5 to 8 whole seconds. This is a good place to start.
6) If you have a cable release to trigger the camera to take the picture, use it. This cuts down on vibration and makes sharper pictures. If you don’t have a cable release then just push the shutter button carefully to take the picture without shaking the camera. The best setting for exposure is called “BULB”. The name “BULB” goes back to the olden days. If your camera has a shutter speed setting called BULB, use it for fireworks. BULB is a setting that keeps your camera’s lens open for as long as you push the button down to take the shot (or with your remote trigger). This is what I use and I hold it down to keep the lens open as long as I need it.
7) Th process goes like this: I watch the rocket begin to shoot up from the ground and I press down on the remote and hold it there. You may not need to HOLD the button down depending on your model camera. If you set it to stay open for 5 seconds then you probably just need to press the button to take the picture (of around 5 seconds in length) and let go. The camera does the rest. In “Bulb” setting, the lens will stay open for as long as I press down on the button. It isn’t a set time like 3 seconds. I keep the lens open to take the trail of the rocket going up and after it explodes and those nice streamers trail off and fade I let go of the button and the shutter closes.
The last thing to do is to look at your finished shot on the camera screen to see if it’s over-exposed, If it is, make it less bright by ONLY changing the F-stop! Don’t change anything else. Remember how we started with an f-stop (this means how wide your camera’s eye is open) of f8? Turn it to f11 to make it darker.
If your lens has built in Vibration Reduction reduction (often called “VR” setting or “IS” setting) turn that OFF before your begin. With your camera on a sturdy tripod, a lens with VR will actually take a blurrier shot unless you turn it off.
One last important thing: Try to fill most of your frame with fireworks. If you are too far away you may end up with a tiny display. I’ve seen disappointed people who tried to shoot photos of fireworks that are far away on the horizon. Get fairly close where most of the crowd watches from, and zoom in till the explosions fill most of your frame. Bigger is good. Tiny, far away on the horizon far away is not. 🙂