Yesterday I posted about scenes from Diwali (Deepawali), the festival of lights, as seen during the day in Chennai, India. The firecrackers that had been steadily and constantly building over the last few days continued to build until Saturday night, when the nature of the sounds changed. Wandering up to our roof, I was amazed to see fireworks in all directions. Periodically the lightshow would be amplified by the staccato rat-tat-tat of chains of firecrackers being set afire in our neighborhood, or the loud BOOM of an individual cherry bomb. I ran down to grab the camera to capture what I could, and over the next hour or so, learned a few lessons about photographing fireworks effectively. A few of the things I learned below.
1. First, use a tripod and a remote. You’re going to do long exposure photography. You don’t want blurry photos.
2. Set all your camera settings to manual. All the fancy automatic settings your camera has are not going to do any good photographing fireworks.
3. It’s tempting to think, as I did, that you should use a high ISO (sensitivity of your sensor) setting. As I was told by some photographer friends the other night, set your ISO to about 100. And you want your iris relatively open – I started at 5.6 but after experimenting a bit, settled around 8 or so. Set your focus to infinity. And if your camera allows you to do this easily, play around with the shutter speed during your photography session, leaving the rest constant.
4. For individual bursts, I tried to zoom in as much as possible. I played around with exposures between 8 and 15 seconds. Some will say use 30 seconds, but I found that not knowing where the next burst would come, setting the shutter to 30 seconds meant I couldn’t react to changes in the fireworks’ direction.
5. Shoot in RAW. Keeping the shutter open for long periods of time will lessen the blacks if city lights are a problem. Shooting in RAW will allow you to adjust the blacks (in Photoshop) and play around with contrast and other settings before you commit to a JPEG.
6. The multiple bursts in the photo above are quite difficult to get naturally. That’s where the cheating comes in. The image above, and those that will follow, are actually “stacks” of images. For these, you want to zoom back out, make sure your tripod is stable and everything is locked down (and the wind is to messing things up for you) and take a series of shots without moving the camera at all. Try and capture fireworks of different colors in different locations. Or just take a bunch of pictures and sort things out later.
7. Now select from 5 to 10 different photos that show different colored bursts in different parts of the sky. Take the RAW versions and adjust them appropriately and put them in a different folder. Now download a program that was created to photograph star trails (I blogged about this before). There are several options, but I used Startrails, which you’ll need to install after you download. Using Startrails, you can “stack” multiple images and get the kinds of images you see below. Good luck!