Firework photography tips and techniques
Learn how to photograph firework displays and create a spectacular fireworks composite in Photoshop. Camera settings advice, exposure tips, digital tricks and more…
Photographing fireworks is fun, but it can be dautning trying to decide on the best exposure, jostling with crowds, and trying to second-guess when and where the fireworks will explode. Some longer displays give time to experiment, but the clock is more often against you. Follow our firework photography tips to ensure you come back with explosive shots…
The best fireworks shots include something in the foreground to provide context or interest. The challenge comes in combining foreground and background so they’re not only well composed, but also exposed: expose for a floodlit building and the fireworks may look blown out; do the opposite, and the building may be too dark.
Thanks to the power of Photoshop, however, we can expose for the building and fireworks in separate shots and then combine them. Not only does this enable us to get a balanced exposure, but it also means choosing which fireworks to include. To illustrate this technique, we went to Caerphilly Castle’s annual fireworks display. Read on to learn how to shoot fireworks and create your own great composites…
Firework photography settings and equipment: 6 top tips
1. Step up to the challenge
It can be hard to avoid the crowds when shooting fireworks. While including a silhouette of a line of heads gazing upwards adds context if you want to shoot anything else in the foreground – our castle, for example – there are bound to be people in the way. One way round this is to carry a small, collapsible stool or step ladder that will give you extra height – as long as your tripod extends high enough, of course.
2. Take a head torch
Photographing in the dark can be tricky: even if your menu screen features a backlight, you can’t always see your digital camera’s buttons. A small, LED head torch provides light for close-up work, and can be switched off when it’s time to start snapping.
3. Use manual focus
One of the keys to successful firework photos is getting the fireworks in focus. To ensure that your lens doesn’t starting hunting back and forth for the focus point when you’re actually taking your shot, pre-focus on something light and on the ground that’s the same distance away as where the fireworks will be and then switch your lens to Manual focus to lock it in place.
4. Camera settings
Shooting fireworks can be a bit of a lottery, but one way of improving your odds is to keep your settings consistent. A tried and tested method is to select Manual mode and then set an ISO of 200 (for relatively grain-free shots) and an aperture of around f/11 (when it comes to sharpness, the sweet spot of most lenses is between f/8 and f/13). All you need to think about then is shutter speed. It’s worth experimenting with different speeds, but anything between 1-4 secs should do the trick; this will ensure that the sky remains nice and dark, and that the fireworks aren’t over-exposed.
5. Use a cable release
We’re always banging on about the importance of using shutter release cables for all sorts of subjects, but in the case of fireworks, they’re essential. The only way to ensure sharp, shake-free shots of a firework in full bloom is to release the shutter just before the rocket explodes at the top of its trajectory. Pressing the shutter button manually may jog the camera, and a self-timer makes it all but impossible to get the timing right.
6. Get warmed up!
Messing about with camera settings on a cold winter’s night can quickly result in cold hands and numb fingertips. One way to ensure you can still feel the buttons and dials on your camera is to keep a hand-warmer in a coat pocket, or in the palm of a glove. If it’s really cold, it can also be used to warm up batteries, which tend to be a lot less effective (and don’t last nearly as long) when they’re cold.
Firework photography composition and exposure
One of the problems with shooting fireworks is that there’s no way of knowing in advance how high they’ll go before they explode. A straightforward way round this problem is to start with as wide an angle as possible and then zoom in as you find necessary.
It’s also hard to know whether to shoot in landscape or portrait format. Generally in this situation portrait is best, as fireworks tend to go straight up, but if there’s time, it’s definitely worth swapping between the two as the display dictates.
If you’re planning on creating a composite photo, then it’s important to leave some extra space around the fireworks so that the edges aren’t trimmed off, and to capture one or two blooms at a time – any more than that and it all starts to look a bit fussy.
If you want to get something right in-camera, though, it can pay to crop in and fill the frame. In our image on the left, we exposed the shot so that the castle would be well-exposed without blowing out: at ISO 200, this meant a 4 second exposure at f/11. We then cropped in so that the castle filled the bottom of the frame and simply waited for the beautiful bangs to begin!
Firework photography tips and techniques: page 2
Firework Photography: Photoshop tutorial
Photographing fireworks can be hit and miss, but creating a stunning composite in Photoshop couldn’t be easier. Here’s how to add firework shots to a separate nightscape, then blend the resuting composite so it looks realistic…
1. Open the start images
Download the ‘firework-photography-download.zip’ using the link at the top of this page, and double-click the zip file to reveal the start pictures. Launch your copy of Photoshop CS. Go to File>Open to navigate to the Start folder, then click-and-drag on all four of the start images to select them. Click OK to open them up.
2. Copy and paste
Select the image fireworks1.jpg, grab the Lasso tool from the Tools palette and make a rough selection of the fireworks in the centre, taking care not to include any of the castle. Press Ctrl+C (Edit>Copy) to copy them, then go to Window>castle.jpg. Press Ctrl+V (Edit>Paste) to paste the fireworks cut-out onto a new layer in castle.jpg’s Layers palette.
3. Lighten up
Now for the clever bit: to get rid of the black background so that only the fireworks are visible, click on Normal at the top of the Layers palette and select Lighten from the Blending mode drop-down menu. This ensures the pixels that are lighter in the top layer than in the bottom layer show through, while pixels that are darker don’t.
4. Get moving
By default, the Fireworks have been pasted onto the castle image in their original position. To move them so that they’re no longer obscuring the castle, make sure the fireworks layer is selected, select the Move tool from the Tools palette, and then drag the fireworks up and to the left.
5. Repeat as required
To paste the next set of fireworks onto our castle shot, go to fireworks2.jpg and repeat Steps 2 and 3, making sure you select the Lasso tool before you make your selection. Once you’ve changed the Blending mode of your new Fireworks layer to Lighten, grab the Move tool again to drag it above the castle.
6. Position with care
To paste the remaining fireworks onto our final version, go to fireworks3.jpg and repeat Steps 2-4, this time dragging the fireworks to the top right-hand corner of the frame. Because these fireworks were cropped in the original image, you need to ensure that they’re placed at the right-hand edge of the frame so that the trails don’t stop mid-air.
7. Add a reflection
Depending on where you’ve placed the first set of fireworks, you may need to create a reflection in the moat. To do this, make sure Layer 1 is selected and then press Ctrl+J to copy it. Next, go to Edit>Transform>FlipVertical to create a mirror image of this layer. Double-click on the words Layer 1 Copy in the Layers palette to rename it Layer 1 Reflected.
8. Line it up
Because this new layer is a copy of the original Fireworks layer, its Blending mode is already set to Lighten, so you don’t need to worry about getting rid of the black background. To reposition the flipped fireworks, drag Layer 1 Reflected below Layer 1, then grab the Move tool and drag the flipped fireworks down until they’re in the right place.
9. Add some blur
As the castle image was captured at a shutter speed of 15sec, the water in the moat is slightly blurred, as is evident in the reflection of the castle. To blur the fireworks’ reflections so that they look realistic, select Layer 1 Reflected, zoom in on the reflected fireworks and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 2 pixels and then click OK.
8. Tone things down
The reflection of the castle isn’t as bright as the castle itself, so the reflected fireworks shouldn’t be as bright as the actual fireworks. To tone them down, select Layer 1 Reflected and drag the Opacity slider to 80%. Repeat Steps 7-10 for the other sets of Fireworks if required. Go to File>SaveAs to save it as a TIFF or JPEG.
This entry was posted on Friday, November 5th, 2010 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Technique step by step. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a comment. Pinging is currently not allowed.