Five tips for your Fireworks Film Photos

Written by Katt Janson Merilo

Summertime brings with it long, clear, warm nights and plenty of excuses to set a giant stick of explosives on fire, run away, and photograph the cacophonous and polychromatic results. To get you started, our expert fireworks setter-offer Peter Carlson has some quick tips and tricks.

 Pictured: Peter Carlson, resident pyro and fire safety officer at Blue Moon Camera.  Photo by David Paulin

Pictured: Peter Carlson, resident pyro and fire safety officer at Blue Moon Camera.
Photo by David Paulin

5. Focus to infinity

This might go without saying, but fireworks are (hopefully) very far away from you and your camera. If they aren’t, please stop reading and correct this error in judgement. We’ll wait.

Now, be sure that your luminous explosions are in focus no matter where they go off by setting your lens focus to infinity and keeping it there. You don’t want to be messing with focusing in the split seconds of brief but awe-inspiring fire power.

 This glorious scene captures 12 whole minutes of freedom.   Fireworks in the River by Peter Carlson, a 12min exposure

This glorious scene captures 12 whole minutes of freedom. 
Fireworks in the River by Peter Carlson, a 12min exposure

4. Stick to smaller apertures

Starting off at around f11 is a good idea. This helps sharpen some of those white-hot details.  The other important thing to remember about aperture is that it controls how saturated your fireworks turn out.  This is because, like flash, aperture controls how much light is passing through the lens and therefore controls how bright or dim the light trails left by fireworks will be.  Open your aperture wide and your fireworks will be bright but overexposed, washing out their color.  Close that aperture down and get that firework exposure just right and the resultant colors will be much more saturated.  Closing down your aperture is also a good idea because you’ll want to…

 

3. Make a long exposure

You may have fast fingers, but there’s no way you’re gonna snap that starburst at a thirtieth of a second. Bring a tripod and let your lens take in the view for awhile. If you start at f11, pairing that with a 30 second exposure should help you capture those brilliant flashes of unbridled patriotism. But don’t stop there; experiment with longer and longer exposures to capture all the blaze and glory (in case you missed it in the caption, the above river scene was a 12 minute exposure).  Another handy tip is to lock that shutter open on bulb and use a small notecard to gently cover the lens between explosions or during explosions you don't want in the final scene.  Maybe a lot of red-tinted fireworks are going off at the moment and you want a bit of variety.  Simply let the exposure soak in the glare of the first few red rockets, gently cover the lens, effectively pausing the exposure, and uncover it again when the green rockets launch off.  In this fashion you can pick and choose which fireworks you build into your exposure, kind of like how you pick out flowers for a bouquet.

  Sparkler Spin by Peter Carlson

Sparkler Spin by Peter Carlson

2. Use a saturated color film

Like Ektar 100, for example, or Fuji Velvia 50. Sure, you could use a black and white if you really wanted, but then you might miss some of the kaleidoscopic shades of excited metal oxides as they burst into the air and shower down upon the world below, and what fun would that be?

 Don’t let this Black Cat fool you – black is in fact the presence of ALL colors, and it’s only with Ektar that can you properly see them.  Black Cat by Peter Carlson

Don’t let this Black Cat fool you – black is in fact the presence of ALL colors, and it’s only with Ektar that can you properly see them.
Black Cat by Peter Carlson

1. Bring beer

Only if you’re legally of age to drink, of course. But if you’re 21 and older, don’t miss this most important step. Trust us on this one.  Don't follow this step if you also intend to be setting off any of the night's explosives.

  Bottle rocket by Peter Carlson

Bottle rocket by Peter Carlson

Go forth and make explosions, people. Have a safe and happy 4th of July.

 Don’t do anything we would do.  Photo by David Paulin

Don’t do anything we would do.
Photo by David Paulin