I’m a lazy photographer. I’ll be completely honest here. I enjoy it sometimes but for the most part I am just straight up lazy. I took 3 years of photography in high school and even submitted an Advance Placement photography portfolio which I did pretty well on. Not to mention at one point I thought I might even major in photography in college. Based on some of the photos on this blog all of this might surprise you.
Too bad I let any skills I had go and I got lazy. I’m still pretty lazy about. Getting better, but still not really interested in investing time into taking the best pictures I could take. Let’s just say I enjoyed SLRs much more than DSLRs. There’s just too many factors with digital cameras. With a regular SLR you picked one ISO speed because that’s the film you picked. You had maybe 24 shots total so you didn’t go around snapping everything going on. Things were much more deliberate and planned out. Where as when I got my digital camera the world of photography opened up! 5 different ISO speeds, hundreds of pictures, and even more settings and configurations than anyone has any use for [and I only have a Nikon D40. One of the more basic DSLRs!]. Way more work/effort/time consumption then I want to put into photography at the moment. That’s why I need to keep things simple. And maybe you do too.
That brings me to the tips! Just a few tips for the beginners to go out there this Fourth of July and be able to take some pictures of fireworks.
1. Tripod: You need one. I don’t care how steady you think you can hold your camera, at the very least you need a tripod. Even if all you have is a point and shoot camera, you’ll need a tripod. Here’s the one I have: Amazon Lightweight Tripod. It’s super basic, light weight, has two leveling devices and works well enough that it gets the jump done. If you can’t afford something like this then look around your house. Depending on where the fireworks are you could use a stool or anything else that would stabilize your camera. You could even try your hand a DIYing one!
2. Find a spot to shoot early: If you’re familiar with where the fireworks shoot off from then that’s perfect. You’re going to want to find the best spot you can before anyone else does. This doesn’t necessarily mean the closest spot. Maybe being on a hill is good so you can shoot your pictures over the audiences head. Just make sure you find a good spot early. You don’t want to wait too long and then end up being the jerk with the huge stand that is blocking things nor do you want to be the photographer who has tree branches in all of your firework pictures because the only place you could find was practically behind a tree.
3. Make sure you have a full battery and plenty of space on your memory card: I cannot stress this enough. When I take firework pictures, I take a ton. A firework display isn’t typically very long so you might not have very much time to look at your pictures. You want to be able to experiment since the same settings will not work for everyone. Not to mention fireworks are all about timing and you don’t want to miss a potentially awesome shot because you were busy flipping through your pictures finding ones to delete.
4. Adjust your camera as best as you can before the show starts: Obviously it’s going to be hard to find the perfect settings before the show starts but the more ready you are before it begins, the better. Doing things like turning off the flash, setting up your tripod in the direction you think the fireworks are going to be, deciding whether you’re going to take pictures in manual or auto, turning on auto focus, setting your camera to the lowest ISO possible, etc.
5. Adjust your camera some more as soon as the show starts: As the time for the fireworks draws near you’re going to want to be ready because as soon as it starts you are going to need to make sure the fireworks are actually where your camera is pointing. Realizing that some fireworks are going to go higher and some are going to be lower is important. Your goal isn’t to capture all of them so aim your camera where most of them hit. You’ll also want your camera to focus on the fireworks. Once my camera is auto-focused on the fireworks [if I remember] I will change my settings to manual focus. This is so my camera doesn’t go all funky on me and try to focus on other things that may or may not be fireworks.
6. Manual vs Auto: With manual mode you’ll have more control and really be able to play around with your pictures. This also leaves more room for “mistakes”. If you’re comfortable with your manual settings then I say go for it! I just stick with Programmed Auto (P for Nikon D40 users) for firework pictures. [The lazy photographer in me]. It allows me to just be in charge of timing rather than trying to adjust things. Also doing programmed auto rather than just doing regular auto let’s me be in charge of the ISO. I want a low one for things to work out best so by having control of it, I know my camera won’t change it on me later. A low ISO will decrease the noise or graininess in the picture, which tends to show up really well on solid black surfaces like the night sky. When it comes down to it you should only need to adjust your settings once, maybe twice and it’ll be fine but if you’re not comfortable with manual or you’re lazy like me, Programmed Auto does a good job of reading when enough light has come through.
If I am in the mood to get fancy I might try B mode or bulb mode. This will allow you to keep the shutter open as long as you want. Just click the shutter button to open and release when you’re ready to close. The down side of this is that it’s very easy to get too much light this way or not enough light because you didn’t keep the shutter open for the right amount of time. But again, you’ve got a digital camera and if you listened to tip 3 then you should totally play around with it because you can end up with some really awesome night-time pictures. Another option for you might be to set your camera for “firework” mode. I’m pretty sure my camera can’t do that but I’ve seen it on others. It’s worth playing around with the settings to find something you like.
7. Optional: A lot of people will tell you that you need a remote shutter release. I’ve recently purchased one [AmazonBasics Wireless Remote Control] and therefore have never used one to take firework pictures. Will they make your life easier for firework and selfie pictures? Most definitely. You won’t have to worry about camera shake and your firework lines being wiggly. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to take firework pictures without one. This is one of the reasons I use auto. With auto you can put your finger on the button press and let go without having to touch your camera while the shutter is open. Where as if you were to use bulb mode and manually hold the button down, you’d end up with a lot of shaky pictures.
8. Timing: Some people will tell you to use a self-timer to decrease shake. I don’t do this. You can if shake is a big problem for you. I would rather have more control over what I am going to capture then leaving it up for chance. What if the fireworks explode before your timer goes off and you’re just left with a black picture with some smoke in it? Typically what I do is listen for the rocket to be shot, wait till it’s just about to explode and then click the shutter. The shutter will stay open just long enough to capture the firework and close by the time the firework has fully exploded and is starting to fade. This works really well for me. If you’re able to really listen for the fireworks that helps a lot.
In the end, if you want to be a good photographer or even a great one, don’t be lazy. Find your manual, read it. Take some classes, check out some photography sites online or find other blogs out there that can help teach you about your particular camera. While writing this post I stumbled across the manual to my camera and I just might get the motivation to read it. Maybe. And if I don’t ever get around to it? Well at least I know I can take decent enough firework pictures.
If you end up going out and taking pictures of fireworks this summer, let me know what works for you. And feel free to send me a link to your pictures. I would love to see them! Or on the other hand, if you’re still confused please email me or comment so I can help clear things up.