Photographing Fireworks

 

Flashes of Light

 

Since the early days of photography, flashes of light have been a common feature. Explosive powder was one of the first methods of lighting a subject, whereby a photographer would ignite a tray of metal powder and chlorate to create a bright flash – sometimes seriously injuring themselves in the process!

 

This dangerous method lit up the room where often strait-laced people stood for formal photos, no doubt wearing rather shocked faces after witnessing a mini explosion. With a spark of light, puff of smoke and a loud bang, their startled demeanor was cast onto film for eternity, or at least until the photo faded.

 

 

The method of flash has evolved much more safely in modern times, yet the spark lives on and much more so in front of the camera. Its modern-day usage features in certain realms of photography where both fire wool spinning, and smoke bombs can be used to inspire a sense of awe and magic to the viewer. However, nothing is quite as exciting as a firework, which brings an unparalleled level of color and joy to an occasion.

 

 

Light Show in the Sky

 

Living in the big city of London, there are many opportunities to watch this grand celebration, and although they’ve been somewhat muted in recent years, events are sparking back to life. One such occasion is the Battersea Park Fireworks, where I’ve been the official photographer for the past few shows.

 

Firework photos can be a challenge to photographers on many levels, from varying light and weather conditions to crowds getting in the way.

 

Here are a few tips from all I’ve learned along the way – but first – the gear I find most helpful.

 

 

GEAR

 

Tripod: The key item you want to ensure is in your kitbag is a tripod. Those explosions need a slow shutter speed, so seek out the best form of stabilization you can achieve at the location. Be mindful of others tripping over it in the dark and find something robust that can handle the wind or muddy fields. I personally prefer to use a ball head tripod which enables a very quick change of composition – perfect for fast-paced events.

 

Camera: The best camera is the one you have with you, and any can work for fireworks. Modern phones are just as capable these days, especially with a pro-mode setting where you can adjust shutter speeds. Make sure the camera sensor is clean as the bright lights can make any dust particles visible on screen.

 

Lens: With the fast-paced action, you’re likely to want to use a fast zoom lens with a wide range of focal lengths. A 24-70mm f2.8 would be great in many locations, allowing you to quickly adjust the perspective. Depending on your viewpoint, a wide angle (~15mm) may be the right choice to ensure the biggest fireworks of the night are in frame.

 

 

SETTINGS

 

Shutter speed is the key consideration for firework photos, and you don’t want to miss that massive explosion at the end of the event. The choice of speed does depend on the type of fireworks being displayed, but for frenzied events, I often find a shutter speed of between 3-5 seconds can get you some top shots. With a faster shutter, you may not capture much; slower, and all the fireworks may blur into one big tangle. Try and get at least 4-5 bangs into each shot where possible. Professionals will often use a remote shutter device to capture the action, and this is worth considering, because pressing the shutter button will introduce camera shake to your photo.

 

Bulb mode is another useful technique that allows you full control of the length of shutter rather than a set period like 5 seconds. It allows you to force the shutter when you think enough fireworks have been captured and is a very useful way of capturing a show if the display quickly goes from a slow pace to a rapid frenzy. You can even cover over the lens with a black cloth or cardboard between bangs to ensure you only photograph the best moments.

 

A low ISO is best here to make sure the photos are the sharpest they can be. ISO200 will be more than enough.

 

A mid-range aperture like F11 is a good starting point for fireworks and is easily adjustable. If you’re underexposed, then open the aperture, if overexposed then close it to a higher F number.

 

Shoot in Manual focus. There’s nothing more annoying than missing the best bang because your camera is trying to find focus. Turn off auto-focus and set up the manual focus to infinity before the fireworks start. You’re then able to shoot away knowing every shot is sharp – but do just check the first few photos to see that they’re perfect. You want to make sure that you’ve got the focus correct for the shoot.

 

 

AESTHETIC

 

Composition really is key for many styles of photography, and it’s no different here. If you want to take your firework photos to the next level, then be mindful of this. Seek out story and emotion in your photos. Can you capture the crowd in awe, perhaps silhouetted or reacting to a loud boom? Can you position yourself to give a sea of people below you and give the fireworks an immense sense of scale? Which local reference can you include that ‘places’ the occasion, be that The London Eye or the local landscape? All will ground the viewer in the occasion and provide that sense of wonder. The same can be said for photographing bonfires, where emotion and warmth make for the best photos.

 

 

Be mindful of the wind and smoke cast from the fireworks. If you can, position yourself so the wind blows away from you, otherwise you may well find a barrier of smoke between your camera and the display.

 

 

FINALE

 

Apart from all these tips, do make sure to watch the occasion and marvel at the display in front of you. Look up from your camera and treasure the explosions of color in the sky, so when you look at the photos again, they bring back those same feelings that you experienced that evening.

 
 

About the Author – Chris Dalton

 

Chris Dalton is a professional photographer and architect based in London. He specialises in cityscape and portrait photography, with a growing body of work combining the two disciplines in artful ways.

 

A self-taught Photographer, Chris first began taking photos of buildings as an architecture student before moving into a more urban style of photography. His photographs bring viewers a unique and fresh perspective on London, with unique compositions and stunning cityscapes. His work is familiar for its vivid colours, perfect symmetry, and artistic use of slow shutter speed. He can occasionally be seen lying down on the ground taking artistic shots of manhole covers!

 

Chris has gained acclamation from many organisations across the UK, including Time Out, Visit London, The Metro and Transport for London. He is currently an ambassador for Samyang Lenses, a Mi Creator for Xiaomi Studios, and runs workshops in London for those looking to learn how to use their cameras.

 

Genres: Cityscape

   

Articles from Chris Dalton