Photographing fireworks is always a fun, challenging long exposure exercise for the 4th of July. This will be my 4th year capturing these colorful explosions and my first attempt at shooting the trails on instant film.
I’m sure you’re equally as excited as I am about the possibilities for creative night photography this holiday. I’m by no means an expert on firework photography; that said, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few mistakes I made over the last couple of years along with last year’s photos.
4 firework photography mistakes to avoid
There are countless articles online offering excellent firework photography tips. If this is your first attempt at firework long exposures, I really can’t stress enough how helpful pre-4th prep will be for you when the big day comes. Firework shows usually only last about 20 minutes, and by the last five minutes or so the sky gets pretty smokey. Too smokey to get clean shots. So you won’t have tons of time to mess around with your settings on the fly. You’ll miss a lot of awesome shots unless you study up ahead of time. I know I should have read more than I did my first time photographing fireworks or I wouldn’t have made the mistakes below.
- Leaving my lens on Auto focus – Auto focus is the enemy of firework photography. Do yourself a huge favor and switch your lens to manual focus before you start shooting. Otherwise your lens will waste precious seconds trying to focus in a sea of darkness or your light trails will come out blurry even though you’re using a tripod.
- High f stop – I initially thought I should shoot fireworks around the same aperture as I do traffic long exposures. Say around f /11 to f/22. Limiting the brightness at these levels allows you to take in a lot of light and still retain distinct trail lines. Lower f stops will cause your trails to blur together and look like shapeless blobs of overexposure. For fireworks, though, I don’t recommend going up as high on your f stop unless you’ve got a sizeable amount of competing light in your frame. I say stick to about f/8 to f/16 depending on your shutter speed and desired trail weight/thickness.
- Framing fireworks only – This one isn’t so much a mistake as a suggestion. Up until now I’ve focused on framing fireworks alone in my shots. I think that’s a good approach for a beginner because it gives your work clear direction. At the same time, I think I got stuck in a fireworks only mindset and neglected other interesting photo opportunities around me. This year I intend to experiment with including other elements into the images. The last 2 years I’ve fired my shutter through burst mode on my DSLR, so I’m stoked to break away from the digital disconnect and take a hands on approach with my Lomo Instant Wide. I guess the takeaway here for you would be to change it up to keep from getting into a firework long exposure rut.
- Too fast shutter speed – Fast shutter speed is relative, of course. In this case, it’s a matter of preference to a degree. For short bursts of fireworks right after they explode, ¼or 1/8 work for me. For start to finish fireworks with long, fat light trails, 8-30 seconds should have you covered.
2016 4th of July photo gallery
I hope you enjoy the 2016 shots! These are all eight second frames at 100 ISO and f/9 to f/11. Have a safe and happy holiday =)