November 3, 2021
How to get a great looking firework photograph. Eight tips to capture superb images of this year’s Guy Fawkes Night
Here in the UK, this coming weekend will see many firework parties. November 5 remembers the capture of Guy Fawkes, who was trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. The ‘Gunpowder Plot’ involved Fawkes and several other people who wanted to assassinate King James I and restore the Catholic monarchy. An anonymous letter revealed the plot, and on November 4 1605, Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Parliament and was arrested and eventually hung, drawn and quartered. After a few decades, Gunpowder Treason Day was established, and effigies of Fawkes were burned to remember the failed plot. That’s the history, but today it is more an excuse to set off fireworks and enjoy treacle cake. It’s also an excellent opportunity to photograph colourful fireworks exploding in the air. Here’s a quick guide on how to get the best photos you can on Firework day.
Use a tripod
A firework display always looks better at night, so you will be taking longer exposures. To get sharp pictures with long exposures, you’ll need a solid tripod. I’ll be reviewing the Slik Tripod I started using in March this year very soon, so don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter. You can read why I made the switch to Slik at https://edinburghphotographyworkshop.com/manfrotto-no-more/.
Use a shutter release
Another way to get sharp photos is to reduce the amount of vibration as you push the shutter button. Even with a quality tripod and head, you can create camera shake by pressing the button. Prevent it by using a mechanical shutter release. Plug into the side of your camera, and the possibility of shake goes away. You’ll need to make sure that you buy the right model of shutter release that suits your camera.
Shoot in RAW
By taking photos in the RAW format instead of JPEG, you’ll capture more data to allow you to edit. You can read more about the benefits of RAW here.
Keep your ISO low
If you use a high ISO value, there is a good chance that your photos will be noisy. Keep your ISO low at around 200 or 400, and the images will look nice and clean.
Stop your shutter button from focussing
When the firework display is in progress, the last thing you’ll want is for your lens to be hunting to try and focus in the dark. You can stop this from happening by focusing before the fireworks start and then switching the lens to manual focus. Better still, if you use back-button focusing, the shutter button is always just a shutter button.
Expose using shutter speeds and aperture
There are two elements that you are going to look great when shooting a firework display. If the shutter speed is too long, then the trails of the fireworks will look messy. Too short, and they won’t project the movement of the display. However, changing the shutter speed will increase or decrease the amount of light in the sensor. If the overall scene is too bright, make the aperture smaller (a bigger f-number). If it’s too dark, then make the aperture larger.
Press the shutter on the bang
I love the fireworks that create a ball-like shape as it explodes into the sky. To show the effect at its best, try following the firework as it climbs into the atmosphere. As it starts to explode and expand outwards, press the shutter button. You’ll be rewarded with a massive globe of fireworks in your picture.
Remember, remember, a firework is a dangerous thing! Attend a public display and stay in the area reserved for the public. Wrap up warm; it’s going to be cold in November in the UK. Most of all, keep animals inside and even better ask organisers to use silent fireworks so our furry friends aren’t fretting about the noise.
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About the author
As well as running Edinburgh Photography Workshop, Rich Dyson is a professional photographer. His photographs are regularly used in newspapers such as The Times, Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He also had two solo exhibitions as well as being featured in a members sponsored exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. You can see and buy his photography at richdysonphotography.com