Finding The Settings For Fireworks

I think I found at least 10 different online articles on how to shoot fireworks in the weeks leading up to the Forth and I read them all.  My previous fireworks images were ok but I really wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. I was always overexposing and changing the shutter speeds or going to bulb mode was not getting results that I loved.  I think it was reading Joe McNally’s post on shooting fireworks that filled in the missing piece to getting the shots. More on that later.

Frankly I wasn’t going to shoot fireworks on the Fourth.  I live half a mile from the baseball stadium where the minor league Brevard Manatees where having a double header followed by fireworks. The problem with after game fireworks is you have no guarantee exactly when the fireworks will start. Last week I sat waiting for the end of the game only to have it go into extra innings.  The bugs came and carried me away before the first firework was lit.

So on the evening of the Fourth I was going to watch the Disney Fireworks live streamed on the Disney Parks blog instead of standing around waiting for the end of a game. So just before 9 I checked on the score and by surprise the game had just finished (Manatees won). I decided at the last minute to try and get some shots.  This is not the Master Photographers Approved plan for shooting fireworks.

The common theme in all the instructional posts was plan ahead. I think I had all of 7 minutes to get things set up. Setting up included pulling out the tripod and attaching the XF 50-140 F2.8 lens that I wanted to use, mounting the camera, Setting all the settings, getting out the front door and figuring out exactly where to setup to get the fireworks over the houses between me and the stadium.

The setting to use for fireworks are basically.

  1. Set to lowest native ISO. (Mine is 200).
  2. Manual Focus (try to set focus somewhere near infinity).
  3. Shutter Speed (try 4 seconds).
  4. Set Aperture to f8 (for starters).

The last point is where I was going wrong.  The f8 was not the right settings.  Because it’s dark you think you need a more open aperture to get in enough light. This I found to be the wrong thinking.  Fireworks are bright.  I was constantly overexposing at f8.  On the Fourth I stopped down my lens to F14 and probably could have gone to F16 to get the images presented here as I did have to move the exposure down a full stop in Lightroom.

Images were from my Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 50-140mm f2.8 WR OIS zoom. I was zoomed out to the max of 140mm for these shots. Raw images were processed in Lightroom using the Fujifilm Standard/Provia camera profile and a bit (or more) of twiddling the dials .

July 4, 2016

July $th, 2016

20160704-_DSF3307

So I’m glad I decided to give it one more try. The lesson learned here is to really think why the image went wrong. I’m talking about the technical side. If the exposure is wrong at 4 seconds it is going to take a lot of adjustment to add or remove one stop (8 seconds or 2 seconds) for the shutter but adding one/removing one stop using the aperture ring gives the same result by keeping the lens open long enough to capture the full firework explosion. And remember that if you get off track center yourself on a known set of parameters and if you must fiddle, only fiddle with one setting.

2 Replies to “Finding The Settings For Fireworks”

  1. A friend (and excellent amateur photographer) help me learn how to do fireworks photography a few years ago. We met in a field during the Princeton fireworks and she showed me how (and experiment) with variable apertures and shutter speeds in bulb mode. With experimentation, I got the hang of which apertures and shutter speed combinations would yield usable images. Now I just focus to infinity, set the aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to 4s and use the remote trigger.

    1. Yep. oh and one more thing. One evening I couldn’t figure out why my images were so dark. Seems i forgot to take the lens cap off.

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