How to photograph fireworks: creating great images without Photoshop
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Published on July 4, 2014
On Independence Day here in the U.S., we frequently get questions from friends and family about the best way to photograph fireworks so that they don’t require work in Photoshop. There are some simple steps to taking great pictures of fireworks. Here’s some guidance for photographing fireworks with cameras and also smart phones.
If taking pictures of fireworks with your camera
- For best results, switch to manual settings to control the shutter speed and aperature more precisely.
- Set a shutter speed of at least 3 or 4 seconds. When shooting, you’ll need to remain very still.
- If you have a tripod, use it and you can increase the exposure into the 4 to 5 second range. This also makes it possible for you to set a long exposure, and then manually cover the front of the lens when there are no fireworks during the exposure time. This controls ambient light from interfering with your image, and allows you to still capture multiple firework bursts. When doing this, be careful to not bump the camera.
- If you don’t have a tripod, get into a stable position using a fence or bench, or take a seat and use a knee as a last resort.
- Use a smaller aperture. We tend to work between f/11 and f/16. This creates a smaller opening for light to get into the camera, which means that you get more fireworks and less ambient light.
- Set your ISO to 100
- Use a manual focus. You can focus on an object on the ground before the start of the show, then turn your attention skyward.
- Some camera upgrades that will help you to get even better images include a remote shutter release, which lets you control the shutter without possibly bumping the camera. This is helpful, even on a tripod. Also consider a wide-angle lens. When photographing the fireworks, it can be great to get the surrounding area as well.
If using a smartphone
- See if your phone offers manual settings. Many of the Nokia Lumia models, for example, are great cameras that also happen to be a telephone. You can make many of the same controls on these.
- If your camera offers a night mode, try this.
- The same rules for keeping yourself steady apply for smartphone users as they do for those with a traditional camera.
- Disable the flash. There’s no sense using a flash when trying to photograph fireworks.
If you later find that you want to combine multiple images together, or remove things like power lines and trees that are in the field of your images, this is where some Photoshop work becomes necessary. These are the kind of retouching techniques we teach in our Photoshop classes, which can help you to create images that match your artistic intent.
Sometimes it is also great to simply put away the camera and also enjoy the show. This is what several of the AGI staff did last night in Boston where the Boston Pops concert and fireworks were moved up a night early due to an incoming storm.
About the author
Jennifer Smith is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.
Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq.