Monday, April 23, 2012

Fireworks, by Shreenivasan Manievannan
Thanks to Shreenivasan Manievannan for sharing this photo with us

Fireworks are some things that Indians are very familiar with. With so many festivals, we really are in no shortage of these pyrotechnic pleasures. We’re sure that many of us have wished we could capture such beautiful moments with our semi-professional dSLR cameras, only to find that the pictures we click are nothing like what we’ve seen online. In this article, The Indian Geek would like to outline a few pointers on how to capture the beauty of fireworks. While usually only dSLR cameras will allow you to manually choose these settings, a lot of midrange cameras (such as super-zoom point-and-shoot cameras) may be capable of selecting some or all of the necessary settings.

Flash off
First thing to do is turn off your flash. Flashes on cameras are usually effective only up to a distance of 3-4 meters. The light will not reach anything beyond that. Furthermore, your flash is meant for illuminating dark scenes. Fireworks are plenty bright themselves and don’t need additional lighting.

Long Exposure
The beauty of fireworks is in the motion of sparks. The sparks flying in different direction forming patterns is what we need to capture. The camera needs to see the sparks as they move over a period of time; not just at a single instant. For this, we need to increase the amount of time the shutter needs to be open.

Fortunately most firework shows are at night. So if you point your camera to a black night’s sky, even if you keep the shutter open for several seconds, your camera is not going to capture anything other than the bright fireworks. This gives you a lot of flexibility with your shutter time. Holding the shutter open for another few seconds will probably not overexpose the photo. Using a manual BULB shutter setting (the shutter will stay open as long as you keep the shutter button pressed) is ideal. You can choose when to open and close your shutter depending on how much of the current firework you want to capture.

A Steady Camera
To capture fireworks you need to keep the shutter open for several seconds. To ensure a good quality photograph, the camera should not move when the shutter is open. So you will need to have a tripod or some other kind of stand to keep the camera stationary for the duration of the photograph. If you can, get a remote shutter trigger as well. That way you will not have to even touch your camera to click the photograph, thereby minimizing the possibility of camera shake.

Low ISO
Always manually set the camera to the lowest possible ISO value to keep noise to a minimum. If you leave it in auto, the camera will look at the dark sky and increase the ISO, which will cause a lot of noise and possibly, a not-so-black night sky which would ruin the photograph.

Small Aperture
Use a small aperture to make the photos sharp, but not too small since you need at least some amount of light to get through. In most cases if you set the ISO to 100, an aperture of f/8-f/13 should result in desirable photographs, but you can definitely try fiddling around with this setting to see the different varied outputs that can be produced.

Focusing If you set you your camera to autofocus, it will look for something to focus on every time you take a picture. This will not work with fireworks because not only does auto focusing take time, most cameras will not be able to lock autofocus in the dark conditions prevalent during fireworks’ display. You may also want open the shutter even before the firework is set off. The best solution is to set the camera on autofocus for the first firework. Once it's on it, set the camera to manual focus and leave it as it is. As long as you don't move your camera, the fireworks will be in focus.

Location, location, location
This depends on a lot of factors and also your taste. Find a good spot where you will get an unobstructed view of the fireworks, with no bright lights in the background. This may take some preplanning and research. Adding a horizon or landscape to the photo may also work well.

Photographing fireworks would take several efforts, based on trial and error, before good photographs are obtained consistently. There is no specific setting that will work all the time. It depends on lighting, distance, camera, settings and also on exactly what you want to capture. So the next time there’s a festival in your town, find a good spot, setup your equipment and keep these pointers in mind; we’re sure you’ll start capturing the pyrotechnic magic.

Below, we provide a few examples of photographs with accompanying pointers to keep in mind.
Firework photography - Shutter open too short
If the shutter is not open long enough, you will not capture the sparks' motion

Firework photography - Shutter open for too long
If the shutter is open too long, you will capture too many sparks making the picture a mess

Firework photography - Capturing full light trails
Sometimes, you will want to capture the entire firework trails

Firework photography - Capturing partial light trails
Sometimes, you will want to capture partial firework trails

Firework photography - Long exposure, cool light effects
A long exposure can capture some cool effects and colours that you would not notice in real life

Firework photography - Good image

All the pointers in this article can be used to capture any moving light sources in the dark. Automobile headlamps in motion are pretty similar to fire work sparks and can be captured similarly, as shown below.



Stars are also moving light sources. But to capture them, the shutter has to remain open for several minutes or even hours.

Thanks to Shreenivasan Manievannan for sharing this photo with us


If you have any technique that you use, or some photographs that you have clicked to share with us, feel free to use the Comments section below.

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