Tips for Better 4th of July Photographs
It's that time of year again for picnics, sunscreen, your favorite iced beverage, cameras on tripods, and the smell of gunpowder wafting through the air. While those are the good things about the 4th of July, remember there are a few challenges that are likely crop up. Challenges such as huge crowds, not being able to find a good unobstructed view of the show, traffic, and the sudden realization that shooting fireworks is hard. Luckily with a little preparation these issues can be avoided.
One of the best things about shooting fireworks is that if you get it right, the reward can be breathtaking. Simply follow these 5 steps and you will have photos you can cherish, and your friends and family will be amazed by.
1. If you have a tripod, you will want to pack that along with your chairs, drinks and snacks. Shooting on a tripod allows you capture longer exposures without moving the camera. While not everybody is willing to bring a tripod with them to the show, if you do the end results will be well worth the trouble.
2. Pick your spot. Pick the fireworks display you plan to attend early. Before the holiday take a trip there and scout the viewing locations. This will save you precious time when you arrive before the show. Try to find a place with an unobstructed view, level for a tripod, and with the background/foreground objects you like. Make sure that you are not downwind of the show. If you are, you will be taking pictures of smoke and not fireworks! You want to stay upwind of the show to get the clearest pictures.
3. Use a remote shutter or the self-timer on your camera to take the picture. You want the movement of the light from the fireworks, but not the camera. Even the slightest movement from your hand depressing the shutter release on the camera can cause a picture to be blurry. Using a timer will require a little practice to ensure the shutter is activated at the moment you want. You’ll need to work on your timing to get the proper lead time correct. I recommend a 2 second delay to start and see where that gets you.
4. Get your camera set up properly. First, make sure that your flash is turned off. Then, if your camera has a setting that allows you to set your shutter speed, try experimenting with long exposures. Try a 3, 5, and 10 second exposure to see what you get. Typically, you will be better off using a long exposure for the individual fireworks and a shorter exposure for the grand finale (since there is so much light in the sky with all the bursts). Remember that the longer the exposure, the more of a “trail” you will see for each burst and the more likely you are to catch multiple bursts in one image.
If you have a regular digital camera with no modes, just make sure the flash is off and use the nighttime mode if one exists. Many digital cameras today come with a specific fireworks setting that will help produce perfect shots.
5. Have a blast! The 4th of July is a celebration. Don’t spend all your time looking through the viewfinder or worrying about camera settings. During the show take a step back and enjoy it. If you miss a shot remember there are plenty of firework displays this time of year so you can always try again. Besides what better excuse to go see some more explosions can you come up with?