Take great photos of Fourth of July fireworks with these tips from the experts at Nikon, plus my own experiences as a travel writer and photographer:
Pick your spot. Keep the backdrop in mind when you pick your spot. Try to claim the high ground, with an unobstructed, camera-eye’s view of the colorful proceedings, and look for foreground objects. Fireworks against a black sky are colorful, but not that exciting in a photograph. Reference points such as buildings, hillsides, trees, monuments, help a lot.
The Gear. Best is a fast-acting D-SLR or point-and-shoot. Try to use an electronic cable release, wired or wireless, because the less you touch the camera, the better. A wide-angle lens is ideal, but if you’re farther away from the sky show than you’d like to be, a telephoto will be helpful. If you’re using a VR (vibration reduction) lens, check the instruction book, since when some VRs are used on a tripod-mounted camera, it’s recommended you turn off the VR function.
Camera settings. Use a night setting, or the fireworks setting on newer cameras including the Nikon Coolpix. And it’s a good idea to release the shutter via the self-timer to keep the camera as steady as possible. The long exposure noise reduction setting on some SLR cameras is helpful because as you do long exposures, the camera’s sensor tends to build up heat that translates as noise in an image. Long exposure NR goes a long way toward canceling the noise.
Nikon photographer Lindsay Silverman marks her exposures not so much by time but by the number of air bursts, keeping the shutter open for up to ten. She starts at ISO 200 at f/11 and reviews the review the first shot—looking for detail, color and sharpness—and adjust from there. “If I’m underexposed a bit, I’ll open the aperture; if overexposed, I’ll close down,” she says.
Tripod rules. A tripod is essential for fireworks. Get a good one: strong, sturdy, solid. Set it up so your camera’s brought up to eye level by the height of the tripod’s legs, not the height of the center column. For maximum camera stability, keep the center column as low as you can. If you can’t use a tripod or a cable, my own trick is to set the camera on something stable. I’ve used railings, rocks, even garbage cans.
Video rules. For those of you who have Nikon D-SLRs featuring the D-Movie mode that captures HD quality video, the best way to shoot fireworks is using the auto mode. Then you can incorporate the video and stills into a compelling slideshow or edited movie to share with family and friends. You could also get really creative and play around with the focus, to see how you can capture the colors. As with shooting still images, using a tripod when shooting video of fireworks is essential.
Edit later. A great feature found on most Nikon D-SLR’s called Image Overlay. can be used for this layering technique—it’s usually found in the camera’s Retouch menu. Just set the camera’s image quality for NEF (RAW) shooting, shoot the fireworks against a dark sky. Be sure to leave room at the bottom of the frame that will be devoid of any of the fireworks. Later on, when you have taken a photograph (also at night) of a building for instance, you can easily layer the two photos in-camera without the need for a computer.
It’s a great technique, so check out all the details in your camera’s instruction manual to learn how to set it up before the fireworks begin.
Happy Fourth of July.