Sparkling, bursting lights of magic that seemed to fall from the sky into the palm of my hand. Those fuzzy streaks of light that have that magical firework blaze to them. This is the memory of fireworks from my childhood, and this is how I wanted to capture them in my photos. So before I set off to the Seoul International Fireworks Festival last year, I did a quick Google search on how to take photos of fireworks as it was my first attempt using a camera and tripod rather than just using the camera on my phone.
However, I was rather disappointed to find that most of the tips and photos were on taking fireworks that look something like this:
Personally, this style doesn’t evoke delightful childhood memories of fireworks for me. They look more like some sort of spiky sea urchin or a digital painting. I was looking to capture something that didn’t have a stringy, sharp feeling to it. The fireworks I remembered had a nice fuzzy, sparkly quality that seemed to burst out and smear through the air like comets made of glitter. So throughout the night, I tried switching up my camera settings while I took photos of fireworks. When I came home and looked through my photos I was delighted to find that some of the photos had captured the magical essence of fireworks that I had been seeking after.
So let me share some practical tips from my own experience.
- Use a trusty tripod. The spot where you view the fireworks from may not have a convenient surface to place your camera so a tripod will do the trick. It’s also nice to be able to adjust the angle at which your camera is pointing up towards the sky. I basically set up the camera with its legs at the shortest length as everyone was sitting down in the park.
- Faster shutter speed and a larger aperture worked best for me. I basically tried having a slow shutter speed with a small aperture (2 seconds, F/14) and a fast shutter speed with a larger aperture (1/2 second, F/6.3). I prefer the latter in terms of the effect I captured with the fireworks, as they capture that sparkly feel! (I know F/6.3 isn’t a regular full stop, but I was working with what I had on the fly).
- Continuous shooting mode can be helpful as fireworks can look dramatically different as each second goes by. I didn’t find myself worrying too much about the shutter noise as the fireworks were noisy and the crowd was noisy as they oooh’d and ahhh’d. My mirrorless didn’t have a supporting remote at the time so the continuous shooting mode allowed for me to take photos that weren’t shaky from pressing the shutter button as well.
- Set your ISO as low as you can. Fireworks are bright and you don’t any noise in your photos, so leave the ISO at 100~200.
- Turn off your flash. By default the flash is set to auto. Make sure you turn it off so it won’t ruin the fireworks experience for everyone around you.
Some other random tips:
- Bring an aluminum picnic mat. I bought a cheap one for five bucks or so. A chair would be comfortable, but if you’re in the midst of a crowd of people who are all sitting on the ground people get very annoyed if you’re blocking the view. A small foam or inflatable cushion might be nice if you don’t like sitting on the ground for a long time (picnic mats are thin). While you’re at it, pack a picnic or a snack!
- Get there early. If it’s a popular spot for watching fireworks, it may get crowded pretty early on. I got to the Yeoido Park 3.5 hours earlier than the fireworks event and had to squeeze between two tents, because there was nowhere to sit. The man in the tent behind me was complaining that I was sitting in front of his tent, but honestly, there was no space anywhere as the entire park was covered in tents. and when all the tents came down there was more room for everyone.
- Go with a friend (and/or use the restroom beforehand). If you’re going to be waiting a few hours early to stake out a spot, going with a friend is always a good idea. Not only is it more enjoyable to watch the fireworks with friends and family, it’s also practical in the sense that you don’t want to leave your things unattended while you go to the restroom.
- Bring a spare battery and memory card.
Your turn ♥ What is your favorite memory of fireworks? Do you have any other tips for taking photos of fireworks?
** All of these firework photos have been taken by me. I have not enhanced any of the color or sharpened the images. I only edited out a neon orange signpost with the letter B that marked the seating area, but stuck out like a sore thumb in the bottom right-hand corner of some of the photos.