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01-13-2012, 03:12 AM   #1
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How to photograph fireworks properly

Hello!

I have a Pentax K-x. On the New Year ís Eve I was thinking of taking some pictures of the new years fireworks. As I am not a specialist in photographing fireworks, I tried to look for special mode in scenario modes. My previous camera (P&G camera Olypus-500UZ) has such a mode although I have never used it. I noticed that Pentax K-x does not have a special mode for photographing fireworks. At the end, I decided not to experiment with manual or semi-automatic modes and chose to enjoy fireworks without photographing .
Nevertheless, I would like know how to photograph fireworks properly with Pentax K-x. As I understand, fireworks are quite bright and fast occurring. So fast shutter speed is probably necessary. The first question is how to obtain a proper exposure? I presume that the Tv mode or automatic (semi-atomatic) modes might not work properly as they tray to meter the ambient light (it will be low). Is the only solution to use manual mode? In case of manual mode the question is about the proper exposure value (EV) to choose for exposure calculations. I did not manage to find recommended EV for fireworks. The only source I found is Ultimate exposure computer (Ultimate Exposure Computer) that recommends EV 3. This sounds quite low. The drawback of M mode is that it requires carrying out exposure calculations manually. It might be quite complicate in night time outdoors where the computer is not available .
The second question is how to focus. As fireworks occur in night time, AF might not work properly. May be, MF should be used?

May be somebody can share his/her own practical experience or tips in this issue? Thanks in advance!

Best regards,
Alberts

01-13-2012, 03:56 AM   #2
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I usually follow the first firework from the ground up to where it explodes, zooming in properly while this is occuring. When it explodes I focus and leave it at that focus point. When you follor the next few fireworks they should all be in focus. When it comes to exposure, I bracket a bit starting around 1/100 or so, ISO 400. These things can be relatively bright... so they aren't so difficult as people think. CLick! Click! Boom!
01-13-2012, 05:02 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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Another Way?

Hi Alberts,
I have a somewhat different approach, a "scenic" time exposure for each display. Depending upon how far away you are from the launch point, a prime lens of (between) 24mm-35mm will work with a DSLR.
I set it at an optimum resolution/sharpness f-stop, usually f5.6 to f8.0.
Focus is at hyper-focal for whatever f-stop is used. With a manual 28mm at f8.0, this will put everything from about 3 meters to infinity in sharp focus.
You can also just set the lens focus at infinity (MF).
The camera is tripod-mounted with either a cable release or remote shutter release.
For the first few exposures, use a 2-3 second shutter speed, ISO 100.
Start the shutter as soon as the firework is launched.
Review the first couple of frames; What you're looking for is a complete trail from the ground up, and the complete display within the frame.
If the outer part of the display isn't completely within the frame, either use a wider lens (or zoom out), or move back.
Enlarge the shot on your LCD and check focus.
The background should be solid black and the display should be properly exposed.
It's better to have room within the frame and crop later; Sometimes the display launches off-center.
Using f8.0 and ISO 100, your exposures will range between 3-6 seconds on a typically dark night. Just after sunset they may be slightly shorter.
A very dramatic shot can be made if there's a body of water somewhere near the display. Set up on the other side of the water and catch both the display and the reflection in the water.
Bring a small flashlight, You'll need it.
Good Luck!
Ron
01-13-2012, 05:13 AM - 1 Like   #4
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Plus 1 for Ron's advice, used those settings on New Years and was very happy with the results (although I did have to change my lens after I worked out that the first one I mounted was not wide enough for the shot).

01-13-2012, 06:12 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by rbefly Quote
Hi Alberts,
I have a somewhat different approach, a "scenic" time exposure for each display. Depending upon how far away you are from the launch point, a prime lens of (between) 24mm-35mm will work with a DSLR.
I set it at an optimum resolution/sharpness f-stop, usually f5.6 to f8.0.
Focus is at hyper-focal for whatever f-stop is used. With a manual 28mm at f8.0, this will put everything from about 3 meters to infinity in sharp focus.
You can also just set the lens focus at infinity (MF).
The camera is tripod-mounted with either a cable release or remote shutter release.
For the first few exposures, use a 2-3 second shutter speed, ISO 100.
Start the shutter as soon as the firework is launched.
Review the first couple of frames; What you're looking for is a complete trail from the ground up, and the complete display within the frame.
If the outer part of the display isn't completely within the frame, either use a wider lens (or zoom out), or move back.
Enlarge the shot on your LCD and check focus.
The background should be solid black and the display should be properly exposed.
It's better to have room within the frame and crop later; Sometimes the display launches off-center.
Using f8.0 and ISO 100, your exposures will range between 3-6 seconds on a typically dark night. Just after sunset they may be slightly shorter.
A very dramatic shot can be made if there's a body of water somewhere near the display. Set up on the other side of the water and catch both the display and the reflection in the water.
Bring a small flashlight, You'll need it.
Good Luck!
Ron
Cheers Ron... Fireworks is something I've always struggled with... can't wait to try this technique!
01-13-2012, 09:20 AM - 1 Like   #6
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I agree with everything previously posted, however heres another thought. There are numerous fireworks groups on FLickr. Find the photos you like and check out the EXIF data.

01-13-2012, 10:13 AM   #7
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More fireworks?

Hi Bruce, glad to hear those settings work for you, I've shot both film and digital fireworks displays using this technique.
Dave, Thanks! Hope you get to try it out, it's really fun and rewarding.
Hello Cdufor, you're correct, finding out what others are using will help a lot. The photo you posted is fantastic, but differs from what I normally end up with. I'm guessing the exposure was longer (or higher ISO), since the buildings are clear. Plus there's at least a couple of different rockets going off, probably in sucession.
I tend to go for the completely black background.
There's usually a pacing to a fireworks show, at first they're singles and spaced out a bit. This provides enough time to fine-tune your focus, shutter speed and framing. Then it goes faster (less time between shots) and you'll have less time to make adjustments.
At the finale', I make sure the framing is good and wide and just keep clicking off 4s-5s exposures, as fast as I can.
Auto focus seems to be more of a hinderence than a help, the camera is liable to start searching and ruin the shot. So the M/F hyperfocal setting solves that potential problem. Same for the manual (or "B") shutter setting. I don't use a stopwatch, just the ol' reliable "One thousand one..." count. Works for me.
Lots of choices!
Ron
01-13-2012, 10:39 AM - 5 Likes   #8
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i use Bulb mode with a cable release. if you are open too long, you can easily blow out the bursts because fireworks are very bright, shot 1-5 sec shutters usually work well. any longer and the wind motion of the fireworks may start to blur them a bit.

About framing, wider FL is better because you cannot usually predict where the bursts will be and it is better to crop than to have a whole bunch of partials. July 4th, i started with my 28mm and had to change to 15mm because the show was much closer and spread out than i had expected.

i do a few more things in that i bring a piece of black card to cover my lens and open the shutter, then wait for a rising rocket to move into my frame and slide away the card to catch the burst without the tail. if i want two bursts on the same image (a double exposure), i will keep the shutter open but slide the card over the lens until another gets lined up where i want it and then i pull the card away. sounds more complicated than it is but after awhile you can really dial in what you want.
other tips, be upwind or to the side if you can because by halfway through the show you may have all the smoke interfering with your pics. Also, if you shoot close, wear a hat because the hot ashes and unconsumed burning bits sometimes land in your hair.
also, pause from shooting to try to actually enjoy the show once in awhile...we sometimes forget the experience when we are trying to capture it through a camera lens.







the above images demonstrate a show out in a rural location, ie with no interesting foreground or architectural elements. If you are lucky enough to have a city skyline or other subject matter, it can be tricky to get the buildings to be as bright as the firework display. Below, i did a bracketed exposure of 1.5min shutter just before the show started, and then a short 3 sec exposure of the burst and blended them in photoshop. It would be pretty tricky to capture all that dynamic range in a single exposure without losing detail.

Here is New Year's Eve in San Fran:




Last edited by mikeSF; 01-13-2012 at 11:33 AM.
01-13-2012, 11:38 AM - 1 Like   #9
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and watch for the hearts, smileys, butterflies, etc


01-13-2012, 07:29 PM   #10
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Make that bridge shot is awesome!!!
01-14-2012, 07:24 PM   #11
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Mike, I really appreciate your explaining how you accomplished those photos! Thanks.
01-15-2012, 07:12 AM   #12
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you know I was also thinking of using a graduated neutral density filter (with the darker portion facing upward) to capture bright fireworks with more shaded ground features...
01-15-2012, 07:32 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by vievetrick Quote
Make that bridge shot is awesome!!!
thanks so much. I am thrilled with how it came out!

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
Mike, I really appreciate your explaining how you accomplished those photos! Thanks.
sure, i know there are other ways, but this is what i've found to work.

QuoteOriginally posted by cdurfor Quote
you know I was also thinking of using a graduated neutral density filter (with the darker portion facing upward) to capture bright fireworks with more shaded ground features...
that sounds like a great idea; please get back to us and let us know how it went!
01-15-2012, 07:39 AM   #14
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i forgot to mention about using a tripod. if you are close to the show, you may be re-framing throughout the show to catch the low show as well as the high rockets. I used a joystick ballhead which requires a single squeeze to reposition, release and it locks again. I find it to be outstanding for fireworks or any other moving objects where repositioning is constant.


https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/sold-items/170808-sale-sold-manfrotto-326...ball-head.html
01-16-2012, 06:32 AM   #15
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Hello MikeSF,

As I understand, you have used aperture F11, ISO 100 and shutter speed 3.1-3.5 for most pictures. These parameters correspond to exposure value 5.2-5.4 EV. The picture with bridge was taken with ISO 320, aperture F7.1 and shutter speed 1.3 which corresponds to 3.6 EV. These are long exposures that require a tripod or something similar to support a camera. Unfortunately, I do not have a tripod and it would be quite complicate to go out with the tripod to see fireworks.
Theoretically, Pentax K-x allows achieving exposure values 5.5, 5.0 and even 4.5 EV with much faster shutter speed if aperture is widened and ISO is increased. For example, ISO 1600, aperture F4.0 and shutter speed 1/50 provides 5.6 EV. If the shutter speed is lowered to 1/25, the exposure will be 4.6 EV. Such shutter speeds can be achieved without the tripod. However, these are quite extreme (although manageable) exposure parameters. As fireworks itself are quite bright, I presume that it can be possible to shot them with much shorter exposure (larger EV). My purpose is to capture only the very fireworks without bothering about the background. May be you can suggest the proper exposure value for such a purpose?

Alberts
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