From spark to splendour: How to photograph fireworks

A vibrant fireworks display lighting up the night sky above the Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam, Penang during its annual Chinese New Year ceremony.

AS the night sky erupts in a symphony of colour and light, the essence of fireworks photography lies in capturing these fleeting, brilliant moments.

It’s an invitation to witness and capture the luminous dance that marks celebrations, the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, or the climactic end of grand events.

However, before capturing these illuminations, it’s important to grasp the fundamentals of this photographic pursuit.

The journey to the perfect fireworks shot begins with meticulous preparation.

Fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during a fireworks display to usher in the new year.Fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during a fireworks display to usher in the new year.

Key steps include scouting the location and determining the optimal direction for framing shots. This ensures a clear view of both the setting and the spectacle, facilitating the composition of striking images.

A solid tripod is indispensable for maintaining stability amidst the chaotic brilliance of the sky.

A remote shutter release is vital to ensure each press is as gentle as a whisper, preventing any motion from marring the shots.

With everything in place, the camera is transformed into an artistic tool, with the night sky as the canvas.

Manual mode becomes the trusted ally, allowing the freedom to craft a visual narrative.

Colourful fireworks lighting up the Singapore skyline during a fireworks display.Colourful fireworks lighting up the Singapore skyline during a fireworks display.

Pre-focusing the lens manually or locking the focus on a specific scene ensures clarity and sharpness in your subjects before the fireworks begin.

An aperture setting between f/8 and f/16 achieves a balanced depth of field, encapsulating not just the fireworks but also the ambience of the night.

Shutter speed, particularly long exposures of 2-4 seconds or the flexibility of Bulb mode, lets one document the entire sequence of the fireworks, from their ascent to their explosions.

Keeping the ISO low, around 100 to 200, helps prevent overexposure to the fireworks’ brilliance.

Using Bulb mode allows one to control the exposure and timing of the fireworks display. Press and hold as the fireworks burst and let go when they fade to catch their full beauty.

Fireworks shooting into the sky to usher in the new year during Sarawak’s countdown celebration at the Kuching Waterfront.Fireworks shooting into the sky to usher in the new year during Sarawak’s countdown celebration at the Kuching Waterfront.

This control is where the magic unfolds; it dictates the timing of each exposure to synchronise with the performance’s tempo.

Fireworks photography is not just about skill but also about framing and illuminating the subject.

Incorporating silhouettes or reflections adds depth and narrative, situating the light bursts within their celebratory context.

Anticipation is also the key – knowing when to press the shutter, hold, and release – to transform a simple photo into a story.

Post-processing also plays a critical role in refining your images and highlighting the night’s drama.

Shooting in RAW is advisable as it offers more flexibility for adjustments and enhances the vibrancy and drama of the evening. These adjustments reflect the unique interpretation of the night’s spectacle.

For more intricate editing, some photographers capture several shots of the scene before and after the fireworks, merging these images to eliminate the smoke from the explosions, resulting in cleaner images.

Photographing fireworks transcends mere technique; it’s about seizing the essence of these transient light displays and the landscapes they illuminate.

It demands quick reflexes and readiness for the unexpected, capturing the night’s sparkle before it vanishes.

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StarExtra , Outdoors , Photography


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