This seems like a great time to be writing about nighttime photos since U.S. Independence Day is just around the corner.
This is a time when we tend to go outdoors at night and want to take photos.
There are several things to keep in mind in general while photographing at night and a couple of specifics for photographing fireworks.
Night photos can be some of the trickiest you’ll ever take—right up there with photos in a snowy landscape. This is one of those times when a tripod can be very helpful. If you have a tripod and your camera will allow you to turn off your flash, AND you have a subject that isn’t going to move for a second or two, you can frequently get amazing nighttime photos.
- Set your camera up on its tripod,
- focus in on your subject,
- turn your flash off,
- and click the shutter.
If any of the above doesn’t apply, you still have a good chance of getting an interesting photo or two with your camera’s flash. The key to using it is to make sure your subjects are close enough that the flash will actually illuminate them. Keep in mind that the flash may give you a bit of a bright spot in the center of your photo but play around with it a little, check on the photos you’ve taken in your view screen, and you should be fine
Now we come to the trickiest part of all—fireworks. This is something even professional photographers have difficulty with. The primary reason for this is digital cameras have a lag between the time you get your auto-focus to focus and when you can actually click the shutter.
If you can anticipate where the firework you want to capture will explode, that’s your best opportunity. This generally only happens when you’ve been watching similar explosions and can recognize the tiny advance sparks of light prior to the explosion—not an easy thing to do.
The optimum time to get something is at the very end of the show when most displays set off multiple fireworks at the same time. Wait for this and click your lens as quickly as you can, as many times as possible. Some cameras can be set for multiple shots all in a row so re-focusing isn’t necessary. This is the perfect time to use that feature if you have it. Even if you think you have a good shot, keep shooting! The one you thought was fabulous may turn out to have parts of several different explosions that, while they’re very interesting like that, don’t have that one spectacular one right in the middle.
Finally, feel free to cheat. A friend of mine who has a high definition, flat panel television, set up his camera to be at “eye level” with the center of the screen and shot away. The advantage of this technique is that the motion cameras can follow the track of the firework easier than you can and they don’t have to contend with the shutter lag. My friend got several spectacular results. I can’t do that because I have a regular big, bulky TV with a shiny screen. If I attempt something like that, I get huge flare and reflection.
Have fun and remember that your photos will get better every year as you practice your techniques.