(Editor's Note: Welcome Jeff Martyka as our newest Roadtreking Reporter. Jeff is a great photographer who will be sharing his tips on how we can all take better photos while traveling about North America. Jeff is always off in his Roadtrek somewhere, shooting photos we'd all be pleased to put on the wall and he'll be a regular contributor here helping us all to take better photos)
One of my favorite nights of the year to shoot is the 4th of July. I like watching fireworks. But I love seeing them captured by a camera. The lines of the fireworks streaming across the night sky create really interesting images.
With so many Roadtrekers out there around the U.S. this time of year, chances are are you'll be watching a big fireworks display.
They aren’t too difficult to photograph, especially with a few tips.
Three of the four images here are from a 10 megapixel Nikon D80 the second time I tried to shoot fireworks back in 2007. The first time was the day before from a boat in Lake Michigan. That didn’t work well at all!
Those three images from 2007 are straight out of the camera jpegs with no editing other than cropping.
The fourth image – the featured image at the very top of this post – had some some basic tweaks in editing, but nothing fancy.
Perhaps the most important consideration when shooting fireworks is your location relative to the fireworks. You need a great spot which means you need to get there early. What better way to hang out than with your RV nearby!
Photographing fireworks works best with a crosswind. This clears the smoke out. If the smoke just sits there the photographs won't look as good. You also want to be reasonably close. Getting a lake in the foreground for reflections is really nice as well, but the foremost thing to consider is the smoke. If the winds are really low, shoot some fireworks at the beginning before the smoke builds up.
For equipment you must have a tripod. And you need a camera that you can put in manual focus. If you don't have a tripod you will just get squiggly lines. If you have a wired remote for your camera, that is helpful but you can get away without it. If you want to post process your images shoot RAW. If you don't want to do that just use JPEG and the camera will do the things we do in post processing.
At my location I setup the tripod and camera aimed in the general direction I know fireworks will be. I set my focus on something far from me. I shoot in manual mode with the aperture at f8 or f11. I set ISO to 100. This assures I mostly get the bright lights of the fireworks and have a decently wide depth of field to get the whole firework in focus. When the first several fireworks are going off I make sure my focus is dialed in and that I have framed a good amount of the fireworks. I don’t zoom all the way into the fireworks as they don’t always appear in the same place.
There are two options for speed. You can either set a 2 second delay and vary the time of the exposure…something around 2-5 seconds works well. The 2 second delay is needed so the camera doesn't shake. Without that you'll get squiggles. This is really hard to time and you’ll get less good shots doing this.
The better option is to use a remote. With the remote you set the time on the camera to bulb. You hold down the button on the remote for as long as you want. Sometimes I will start pressing the button as soon as I see the rockets launch and sometimes I will start when I anticipate the explosion. It just depends on if I want to have just a fireworks flower or a flower with stems. I always try to stop before it fades or before more rockets get into the shot.
That should be everything you need to get started shooting fireworks. I hope to see your fireworks images!