This weekend marks the 145 year since Canada became a sovereign nation. Today Canada Day means a day off, parties, time at the beach (ahem, well maybe not as much this year)... and fireworks! Fireworks are works of art, carefully crafted by professionals to awe and wow audiences around the world. Though a display can last minutes or even close to an hour, each shell only lasts a second or two. It can be an incredible experience to capture these fleeting moments. Photography can also add a different perspective than what is seen during a live display. Here are a few tips for capturing these fantastic works of art as the light up the night sky.
#1 Use a tripod – it is almost impossible to get a good, sharp shot of fireworks holding a camera by hand. The best firework photos are longer exposures, and must be locked down steady to get the best result.
#2 Use a longer exposure – to get the dramatic motion tails of the shells going off, you need to keep the shutter open for a longer period of time. If you have a camera that you can manually set the shutter speed (many point an shoot cameras can do this now, or have a fireworks setting), you will want to set it between ½ second and 5 seconds depending on the effect you want. A longer shutter will get more shells in the same shot, a shorter exposure will isolate a single shell as it explodes. Another way to change your shutter speed is by using different apertures. F8 is a good place to start, but you can go to F11 or higher to “drag” the shutter (the photo above was F27 for 4.6 seconds at iso 200). A higher F-stop may also give you richer colour as long as your shot is still properly exposed.
#3 Use a cable release, or a remote trigger – using the shutter button on your camera can add camera shake, even if you have it on a tripod. A cable release or a remote removes physical contact with the camera. If you don't have either of these, use a short (2-5 second) self timer to avoid camera shake.
#4 Select your focus, and lock it – cameras need light to focus, and autofocus doesn't always work when there are periods of dark sky in a fireworks display. When a shell goes up, lock focus, and if you can set your focus to manual, lock it there so the camera doesn't take precious time to try to focus when you see the good shot. Some fast lenses can focus in time, but manual focus tends to be a more reliable method. KEEP IN MIND, if you have a zoom lens and change your focal length (zoom), you will probably need to refocus (go back to auto focus for a second, get a good focus lock, and reset manual focus). It really sucks when you see a shot on the back of your camera that looks great, but you get it home and find out that you were out of focus for most of the display (not that I know from personal experience...cough)
#5 Shoot, shoot, shoot - there is no way to predict what fireworks will go off and when. Many shots will not turn out, but if you keep shooting, you will get some good ones. Sometimes you can see a shell going into the sky; start your exposure just before it explodes, and if it's long enough, you'll get some beautiful motion trails as the stars and arms fall back to earth.
#6 Have fun! - this should be a great experience, trying to get some fantastic shots, but don't forget to take your eye out of the viewfinder and enjoy watching the show that is exploding in front of you.
Hope you all have a fantastic Canada Day weekend! Enjoy your friends and family, stay safe, and maybe share the fantastic shots you get from the fireworks displays.