Scranton put on it’s Independence Day fireworks show on Friday, as part of this month’s First Friday – after an evening covering a performance by the New Vintage Ensemble at The Leonard, I moved to the top of one of the local parking garages and joined some friends to enjoy the display.
The fireworks were being launched from another deck a block away; we had a prime view, six stories above the square, which was packed. I setup the tripod with some approximate settings, and as the show started, I made a few small adjustments then sat back and watched, tripping the shutter ever so often.
In this modern age, this is how so many of us enjoy events – filtered through the screen of a cell phone. There is almost nothing that isn’t captured by the cameras in these ubiquitous devices. (Although I suppose I’m not much better myself, seeing as I spent the show working the camera.)
Fireworks shots are fairly formulaic and are not nearly as difficult as many people seem to think. Each year as July 4th rolls around, I see articles all over the internet – and get a half-dozen by email – about how to shoot fireworks.
Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I find it pretty simple. For starters, a tripod is required. And second, fireworks are a lot brighter than you think, which means you’ll end up using settings which may seem counter-intuitive at first.
I started at f/5.6, ISO 200, 10 seconds – the result was too bright. In the end, my settings had moved to f/11, ISO 100, and between 2.5 and 8 seconds. As I said, fireworks are bright.
The caveat here is the final look you’re going for. If you want to freeze the fireworks in a split second, then you’re obviously going to want to revise the ISO and aperture for the fastest shutter speed possible. But I prefer to drag the shutter and capture fireworks over several seconds, so that they trail out. This way it’s possible to capture the launch, ascent, and explosion all in a single frame. (And often several fireworks together.)
You could take this method a step further, in fact, and add a low-level ND filter to gain even more shutter time. The catch is that too many fireworks in the same frame end up overlapping to much, and instead of colorful detail you wind up with areas of white-out. This is why, strangely enough, the grand finale is perhaps the hardest part of a show to capture – there’s often too many fireworks going off at once to allow for much shutter drag.
As a final note, I set my white balance to Tungsten. It tunes the lights of the city somewhat, makes the sky a lovely deep blue, and doesn’t have much affect on the fireworks themselves.