View Full Version : Fireworks night coming up this weekend. Help!!!!

13-03-2012, 10:09pm
I have a 60D, a reasonable Canon 18-200mm, and a much cheaper Canon 18-55 lens, a tripod, and that's pretty much it.
How do I do the fireworks justice?
I got some quite good photos once before with just a P&S, but that had a specific setting for fireworks, and I just used that.

Now that my camera won't do all the thinking for me, I'd better start considering what I'm going to use. It's not a great opportunity to learn by experimentation, as by the time you've found out what's not working, the display is usually over. So arming myself ahead of time with some ideas as to what kinds of settings for ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc should I be looking to use?
The 60D has quite high ISO available, but the noise created at even relatively low ISO starts getting quite noticeable, so would prefer not to go too high unless it's really advised to do so.

The shots will be taken about 1 km down the lake from the launch point, with a bridge a couple of hundred metres behind the fireworks, that is also used for the fireworks at times, so could potentially have fireworks as a backdrop to fireworks.

Any help, tips and tricks, greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance

14-03-2012, 12:55am
Hi Ezookiel,
you have the main things necessary - Camera, Tripod & Remote Release. Scope out the area for a good vantage point before hand if you can, also consider the 'background' if you want something other than just sky in the shot. Set the camera on manual, say f11 and BULB, ISO low as possible (100) and make sure flash is off. Zoom lens out wide ( you can always crop in pp) switch it to MF and focus to 'infinity'. Squeeze your remote as a burst of fireworks goes off and hold it till the lights fade... you should have a nice shot. ;)


14-03-2012, 7:07pm
Hey Ezookiel,

1km from launch point with the bridge in the background? Hope you're not planning to stand in front of me :). I use much the same settings as suggested by John, have been quite happy with my shots over the last couple of years. I sit so I have the library in the left side of my shot and the bridge in the right. Hope there is a bit of a breeze to keep the smoke down.

Might see you there :)


14-03-2012, 7:33pm
LOL Nicole.
I normally sit just to the right of the carillion so I can look down the full length of the lake. So it may be more or less than 1km (judging distance over water is always challenging). Sounds to me like you'll be more to the north of me and sounds like you'll have a better composition there as well, but I'm stuck with "tradition" i.e. this is where we've set up every year of Skyfire bar one (was in Newcastle), and predates my ownership of a DSLR by a very large factor, so can hardly look for a better location just to accomodate my desire to take a picture or two.
I'll go for a walk around that way before the event and look for female photographers and ask them all if they're Nicole71 - actually, pass on that, my wife wouldn't like that one little bit ;) (and nor will the Police when all the women complain about this strange guy approaching them).

14-03-2012, 8:59pm
Hi Ezookiel, I'll give you some theory and hopefully you'll arrive at the correct settings.

Consider your three parameters: ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed.
All three will affect your ambient exposure (the surrounding lake, trees etc.).
First thing to decide is how you want to compose your firework shots. Do you want just the fireworks against blank sky or do you want to 'set the scene' and include surrounding references.
If you want surrounding references, you'd need to consider the ambient exposure so meter for this and fire off some practice shots before hand.

ISO: This will affect the ambient as well as the intensity/brightness of the fireworks light. As you are aware, noise becomes more of an issue as ISO increases. More on this later.

Aperture: Again, this will affect the ambient as well as the brightness of fireworks. But it also affects DOF.
If you're focussed at infinity on the wide end of your focal length, its likely even your widest aperture has adequate DOF so really you're not likely going to have any DOF issues in this case. But if your composition also contain a lot of foreground, you'd need to consider a smaller apertures to increase DOF.
If you are focussing on infinity, check to make sure you are indeed focussed on infinity and not beyond. Some lenses can focus past infinity resulting in blurred images.
Once you have obtained proper focus, switch to MF and don't touch the focus ring.
Also typically lenses aren't the sharpest wide open so consider where the sweet spot is for your lens and try to be in that zone.

Shutter speed: This will affect your ambient light but NOT the intensity/brightness of the fireworks.
Why? Because the light trail and starburst are basically like moving point sources of light. Its akin to setting up your camera on a tripod on long exposure, running in front of it with a torch light spelling a word or whatever. If the light source keeps moving AND DOES NOT overlap another light source or itself, the shutter speed won't have effects on the brightness of the fireworks.
Keep that in mind since overlapping fireworks WILL affect the intensity/brightness of the fireworks and you're more likely to get overlapping bursts, the longer you keep the shutter open.

Once you've established your ambient exposure, what you'd likely vary during the fireworks is the length of exposure (ie. shutter speed).
But this will affect ambient so you would need to work out a range of shutter speeds that you may need to use.
This can typically be from say 1-8 seconds depending on the fireworks display.
Between 1 and 8 seconds is a 3 stop range.
If your ambient exposure is say at 4 seconds, you may need to underexpose by up to 2 stops and overexpose by up to 1 stop.
For intense bursts you would reduce exposure length (faster shutter speed).
For smaller bursts or longer intervals you increase your exposure length (slower shutter speed).
That's why the bulb mode is recommended by John because you can vary it as you see fit without wobbling your tripod setup by changing settings.
Does your other settings (aperture and ISO) allow you enough 'breathing room' to over or under expose by x stops?
Here's where you try to keep the ISO as low as possible to allow adequate boosting of shadows in post processing.
But if ISO is too low, you may be at your widest aperture where the lens is not performing at its best or you have inadequate DOF.
So depending on the conditions, as always in photography its a balancing game when you select your exposure settings.

Furthermore, some bursts are more intense than others so how do you expose for the fireworks themselves prior.
Well you can't. That's the short answer.
Its why the start of the fireworks is always a little frantic as you adjust your educated guess at the correct settings before hand if necessary. If the fireworks look too bright for you settings, change the aperture or ISO so you still have a comfortable working range for your shutter speed.
And unfortunately, some of the best shots are usually at the start before the smoke start to muddle things up.
With digital, its often better to slightly underexpose than to overexpose since blown highlights are unrecoverable but shadows can be pushed at the expense of noise.
You also loose some of the colours of the fireworks in blown highlights.

Consider wind if possible. Anywhere is fine at the start but I'll tell you its pretty unpleasant to have ash falling from the sky if you're downwind. I haven't had any ash drop in my lens but I have had it drop in my eye and it stings.

Thats all to do with exposure.
In terms of composition, its usually best to have clearly defined trail and bursts.
Try to time exposures after a little breaks so you start with a 'clean canvas' so to speak after the last lot has faded. That way you capture the full trail and burst.

At the end of the day, its often just luck that gets you the best pics since everything is so unpredictable, unless you somehow got your hands on the fireworks timing sheet LOL.

PS: All of this assumes you have your camera on the tripod, solidly planted to the ground. Not like a plank of wood susceptible to wobbles when kids next to you jump with excitement (as I discovered once during a Darling Harbour fireworks display).

Mark L
14-03-2012, 9:35pm
Thanks swifty.
If a bright burst happens, you can also control your exposure time by covering the lens with your hand, or lens cap, and wait for shutter to shut (if using full manual mode).
I've had some success using live view (keeps shutter up) with a remote switch. If you don't have one of them, use 2 sec. timer.
And just keep shooting away (in RAW).
But fireworks are fireworks, so I tried something a little different as well :confused013.....http://www.ausphotography.net.au/forum/showthread.php?97255-21-00-Mudgee-fireworks :confused013 just by picking up the tripod and moving the camera around.
ISO 100, f/10.

14-03-2012, 10:14pm
Thanks for the info everyone, especially for the really indepth reply, swifty, that would have taken some time to write out, and I really appreciate the effort you've gone to.
I'm actually quite excited at the thought that I'll have a lot more to do with how good these come out than the last time. I got some shots that I thought were really good last time, but the camera did all the work. It will kind of be nice to be able to feel that I might actually have had something to do with any good ones this time.

Speaking of which, I should post up the ones from the P&S and see what people think of them. I might find they weren't as good as I though. But for a camera with a specific setting for fireworks, I thought it did a pretty good job.

17-03-2012, 10:01pm
Grrrr.... :angry0:
Got the helicopter display, got some of the Roulettes doing their display, and then got the sunset (which was amazing), but then in came the rain, and with no real way to protect myself, my wife, and the camera, I had to choose the wife because she always skips the fireworks, but came along reluctantly tonight only because it was also my birthday, so I had to try to make it as pleasant for her as I possibly could. So the camera was put away, and the rubber backed rug ended up being used upside down to protect our lower halves, and we shared her umbrella to keep the upper half dry.
I am SOOOO buying a storm jacket for the camera at the first opportunity. Once I buy a new set of glasses :angry0: I had my prescription sunnies on, and my non-sunnies hanging on my shirt, and somewhere during the day walking down from the car, and wandering around finding somewhere to set up, I managed to dislodge the glasses and didn't notice. Once it got dark, I went to switch from the sunnies, and found the non-sunnies missing. That's one expensive arvo.