Photographing Fireworks

Canon 5D camera and Canon 85mm f1.2 L series lens. Exposure: 4 seconds @ f16 ISO 800.Beautiful to behold fireworks offer the photographer a challenging and fun experience.

The word photography translates from Ancient Greek as light (photo) writing, drawing or painting (graphy). In other words the act of making a photograph involves writing with light and, due to their nature, fireworks are a perfect example of that very action.

However, as a subject, a particular burst of light is, by its nature, of the moment. To successfully record the moment its important to synchronise the opening of your camera's shutter with the burst of light from one or more individual fireworks. The problem is the delay between seeing the explosion and actually capturing the moment. If you have a  wonderful sense of timing you might be able to anticipate the moment before it actually happens. Fireworks that are synchronised to music provide just such an opportunity. Anticipating the moment will help to overcome the lag between you seeing the explosion and pressing the shutter release and the camera actually recording the image.

Canon 5D camera and Canon 85mm f1.2 L series lens. Exposure: 4 seconds @ f16 ISO 800.

An alternative approach, which I employed when making the images in this post, was to secure my camera to a tripod, close the aperture down so that very little ambient light reached the sensor and, with the camera set to Manual Focus, setting the lens to infinity. This allowed me to open the shutter, with my camera set to Bulb (B), until one or more bursts of light had illuminated an area of the night sky covered by my composition. If the burst of light was particularly bright I would terminate the exposure soon afterwards. With smaller bursts of light I'd simply keep the camera open a little longer and allow the overall exposure to build up from subsequent bursts. While this technique involves a little bit of guess work its possible, if you have your wits about you, to get a good result by the end of the event. I think you'll find this method far better than the whiplash approach of frantically moving your camera around trying to catch the moment.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography