Recording the New Year fireworks

Friday, 30 December 2011 From Issue Vol. XIX No. 52 By  Harry Flashman

I was reminded of the tricks in shooting fireworks when we had the fireworks extravaganza a couple of weekends ago.  I should have written this then, but never late than never, we (that’s you) will have plenty of opportunities over New Year (be that the Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year or the Patagonian Petunia Festival.  At all of these events the culmination is the letting off of fireworks.

Many photographers attempt to record these colorful displays and most come back with disappointing results.  Here is how to do it properly, but even then you do need a little luck!

The first item is to select where you are going to shoot the fireworks.  Try to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses.  The secret is an uninterrupted view, without people walking in front of you.

Find a place to shoot - try to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses. Find a place to shoot - try to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses.

The next item to attend to is the flash incorporated in your camera.  You have to turn it off!  Most automatic cameras these days pop their little flash heads up as soon as it gets dark, and flash settings are exactly what you do not want in recording firework flashes.  You may have to resort to your instruction booklet to do this.  It is amazing just how many camera owners do not know how to turn on and off the various functions.

The next item of equipment you need is a tripod.  I have written about these many times, but a good sturdy tripod is best.  The light aluminium jobs are easy to carry but don’t keep the camera rock solid.  You need a good heavy one and even hang the camera bag from the central pole, just to stabilize the whole shooting match even further.  My own Manfrotto is around 25 years old and has never given any trouble.  It is worth the extra expense to get a good one and it will be with you forever.

Another piece of equipment is a cable release, and even though not 100 percent needed, makes life much easier in this firework situation.

The final piece in the equipment list is a piece of flat black cardboard around 10 centimeters square.  Matt black is best as it does not reflect light (this is why most photographic equipment is matt black too).  Get a matt black spray can at the hardware shop and make your own card.  Your usual 100 ASA or whatever will be fine, this exercise does not need super-slow or super-fast ASA (ISO) ratings.  Use a wide angle or even standard lens and point the camera at the sky where the firework star-bursts explode in the sky.  Even wait for the first star-burst and lock the tripod with the camera then in the correct position.

The way we are going to get the top shots is to record more than one firework star-burst on one piece of film.  This is how the pros get all those magnificent fireworks photographs.  The trick is how!

Here comes the action.  You are going to need something like 30 second exposures to get several star-bursts.  Select “B” as the shutter speed - popping the shutter button in this mode opens the shutter and keeps it open until the button is released.  Now you can see why the cable release is a good idea, particularly ones that you can lock in the depressed position.

With the cable release in your left hand and the matt black card in your right, you are ready.  When the rocket goes up, open the shutter.  As the star-burst wanes, cover the lens with your black card, but keep the shutter open.  As the next star-burst happens, uncover the lens, covering it again as the star-burst wanes.  Now you have two sets of fireworks on one picture.  Get another and then close the shutter, which means that the camera advances to a fresh area in the memory card.  Now you can repeat the exercise as many times as you like.  Get up to four star-bursts on one photo - any more than four and it gets too crowded in the final print.

So there you have it.  Shoot like the pros and get professional results you will be proud of.  Happy New Year.

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