Taking Better Fireworks Pictures on July 4th

Fireworks Burst #7

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Strange as it seems to be, I had never before set out to take pictures of Fireworks before Friday night’s trip to Emerald Downs in Auburn. Armed with dSLR, Mini Tripod (Joby’s Gorillapod), and a dry, clear night, I was ready to take shots of the pyrotechnics.

And I paused. I realized that there was no easy way to take pictures of the action with the default view of the camera. Obviously, simply expecting a “scene” mode of “Fireworks” from the wizards at Nikon was a bit of a reach. But memories of high-school photography class weren’t helping me all that much.

I found what I needed on the web — a quick primer on ISO, shutter speed, and aperture as they pertain to night photography — and I was ready to go. The basics of fireworks photos, I learned, is dead simple. Crank down the aperture to some reasonable level (I chose F11 on advice from several blogs); slow down the shutter to allow for the possibility of light trails and extended exposure; set the ISO to allow for lower light sensitivity (I used approximately 100 ISO); and (here’s an interesting tidbit) set the white balance to daylight. Of course, a key component here is keeping the camera still during this long exposure.

Why set the white balance to daylight? I’m not certain, but guess that it is to trick the camera into seeing colors more like the human eye and less like an automatic camera sensor. The other suggestions are similar in effect, overriding the “automatic” mode to produce spectacular light show results.

So, to sum up: automatic camera modes are great, except when you don’t need them. For fireworks, crank down the aperture, slow down the shutter, and set the ISO to allow for less exposure during that long exposure. Even if you don’t have a shutter release and can’t seem to find the manual “bulb” setting for the shutter (I couldn’t find an option that worked without the remote infrared release), you should be able to get good results.

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