Monday, July 25, 2011

Fireworks photography

This year fireworks competition - Celebration of Light, is right at the corner. It will start on this coming Saturday, so let's talk about my fireworks photography.

Some said it's very easy to shoot fireworks. Well, I would say it's easy if you know the techniques and just simply catching the fireworks as is. But it could be hard too if you don't understand the fireworks and the timing is wrong to catch the perfect fireworks.

I go to the Vancouver fireworks festival almost every year. Took the fireworks shots with slide/chrome and learned my skill from mistakes & practices. Especially in those time, you won't see the results until the film was developed.

4 seconds - from my experience, it's the right timing to take the fireworks image without catching the fire tail and the explosion in image. If you don't have a remote or release cable, set your camera timer to 4 seconds (if you can't set 4 seconds, try to set 3 or 2 seconds), once you saw or heard the fireworks shooting up, press the remote/cable release immediately (if timer is set to 3 or 2 seconds, pause 1 or 2 seconds before pressing the shutter button). And this 4 seconds also helps in stabilizing the camera shake if any, even with tripod. Depends on my response, I get over 70% successful rate in catching the fireworks without the explosion(the overexposed bright circle spot) in the image. During my film age time(shooting with chrome/slide), I used the multiple exposure technique. Have to visualize what will be captured and advanced the film by canceling off the multiple exposure feature(or just turn off the camera), and also the "black card" technique to eliminate unwanted fireworks to be captured in the frame. f11 is the best aperture. I used ISO 100 on chrome; on digital, I set ISO 200 or 1EV under ISO 200 (equivalent to ISO 100). I can't set 4 seconds on my Nikon D300, so I cover the lens with the black card (or any non reflective object) and count the seconds simultaneously, release/remove the black card on the 4th second. Successful rate goes down, because manual counting is always not consistent.

Fireworks has many types; for ISO 200 (or even ISO 100) setting, some are too bright and some are too dim to catch. If you know certain types of fireworks are too bright, cover the lens with black card and close the shutter. Take no more than two of these bright fireworks. Indeed, one is more than enough. I always close the shutter immediately after any huge fireworks. If the fireworks is dim, it's safe to take longer exposure with multiple fireworks.

During the exposure, you have to visualize what have been captured in the frame and at what position. For this, I can't teach you and show you how. It all depends on your experience, observation and creation. No one can't teach you on this. So, I have to swipe the black card up and down all the time while taking the pictures. And sometime only swipe half way to prevent the over-exposure of the fire that was just above the barge and the reflection on the water surface.

Basic set up:

1. ISO 100 or under (max is ISO 200)
2. Aperture - f11
3. Bulb with remote/release cable (If no cable/remote, set timer to 4 seconds, set shutter speed to 2 seconds or longer - I prefer 4 seconds. Cover the lens with black card if have captured enough fireworks before the shutter time ends)
4. Metering mode - any
5. Picture control - Vivid
6. Turn off NR - noise reduction
7. Turn off D-lighting
8. Black card
9. Focusing distance - basically at infinity. For those shooting at the English Bay, focus at the barge and mark the focusing scale (in case you touch it accidentally). Normally, it's slightly less than the infinity.
10. The most important thing - tripod!
Remember to remove the filter from the lens as well.

I'm showing two "bad" photos (to me) first. It's about the fireworks "tails"; again, you have to know the fireworks type. You need the tails for some fireworks (mostly those low range types) but you also don't want them for certain fireworks (especially those high and big fireworks). How do determine the big or huge fireworks? When you heard the louder shooting sound, that's it! In these photos, I don't like the two long tails in the middle. 

2009 Celebration of Light - displayed by Great Britain

All photos on this post were taken in one single frame only, using long exposure with black card technique. Exposure time varies by determine the types of fireworks and my visualization. Here are the photos of the 2009 & 2010 Celebration of Light.

2009 Celebration of Light - displayed by South Africa

I may add some more photos of the 2009 Great Britain and Finale later, so please check back frequently.

2009 Celebration of Light - displayed by Great Britain

2009 Celebration of Light - Finale

Sometime, you have no choice but to include the people in the foreground. I chose the hill side location an hour before the show with the people sitting on the hill and had no problem. But another group of people just came in at the last 10 or 5 minutes before the show, stood in front and ignored our request. After couple of these kind of experiences, I choose the sea wall location now.

2010 Celebration of Light - Spain
Nikon D300, Nikkor 20mm f4, f11, ISO 1EV under 200 (ISO 100)

2010 Celebration of Light Finale - A tribute to China, displayed by Quebec, Canada
Nikon D300, Nikkor 20mm f4, f11, ISO 1EV under 200 (ISO 100)

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