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Shooting Fireworks...Settings suggestions?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by SalM, Jun 4, 2007.

  1. SalM


    May 13, 2007
    Eastern Pa
    This Saturday in my local town we have a fun days type carnival. They shoot off fireworks on the second day. The fireworks they supply are quite good. Can anyone suggest good settings to photograph them? I have the following equipment...

    Nikon D40
    18-52 kit lense
    70-300 VR Lense

    I was thinking to set the camera to "S" mode. Can anyone recomend a good "F" stop to shoot them in? I was thinking of using the kit lense as it will give me a more wider angle vs the VR lense. I was also going to keep the focus set to continuous....

    Can anyone share any good settings I can use to get decent shots?

    Thanks for your time and your info!

  2. What worked best for me last year was:

    Set the camera to manual, set shutter to B (bulb), when the fireworks started, I opened the shutter via my remote, then held a black paper over the lens so no light came in and took it away when I saw which fire works I wanted... my goal was only red/white/blue in a picture. Oh, forgot to mention, I set focus to manual and pre-focused on the spot most fireworks would be , I think I shot around f/5.6 or so. It worked really well for me this way.
  3. here's a link for you, from the New York Institute of Photography.


    Used these settings for some of mine with fairly good results.

    I take it you have a tripod.....
    and a remote release - or use the timer

    Have fun, take lots of shots, wide angle is better IMHO (crop if you need to).
  4. I agree with setting to bulb. If you have a remote, there is no need for the black paper. An f stop of 5.6 to 8 should befine. Before the fireworks, focus on a distant object, and hold that focus. The length of the exposure is unpredictable, because it depends on how heavy the fireworks are. After a few shots, you will be able to predict the shells exploding, by listening to when they are shot off. You want to get several shells in your picture. when you here the shells shot off, open the lens. Shooting into a black sky, you will not have to worry about over-exposure. Now, just watch for the shells to explode. After a few have gone off, use your remote to close the shutter. Use your screen to check the first few, and you will quickly get an idea of how much to put in exposure. When the shells are coming hot and heavy, like a finale, you will be using a faster shutter speed. Your shutter speed is not determined by time, but by how many shells have been captured and brightness of the shells.

    Also, if your location allows, try to find a spot where you can get something else in the frame with the fireworks...such city lights, people watching, reflections, etc.
  5. fks


    Apr 30, 2005
    sf bay area
    i'm not the original poster, but thanks to everyone for the suggestions and links. i tried doing fireworks last month, and my exposure was all over the map. i'm looking forward to the 4th of july to see if i can do better.

  6. SalM


    May 13, 2007
    Eastern Pa
    Thanks gang! Very helpful. One question, where would I be able to pick up a remote that is compadable with my D40. I only have a few days. Would a local camera store carry this? Are they expensive?

  7. When shooting at 200 ISO I use f16 for my aperature and bulb for my speed. I use a black cardboard over my lens and move it just before the burst goes off. Watch the trail as it rises in the sky and then move the cardboard. Get two or three bursts for best effect.
  8. I live in NY (actually about 45 minutes north of Manhattan) and I have shot the Macy fireworks often.

    Here are a few tips:

    - Use a tripod

    - Use your long glass if you want to fill the frame. If I were using the 300 zoom that you describe, I would probably wind it out to about 200 or a tad more. I find that particular lens is much sharper at 200 than at 300.

    - The question of exposure and focus. Manual all the way. Focus is set to infinity and left there. Exposure? I start with f11 and use a cable release to lock the shutter open using bulb. I do NOT set the shutter speed. Get yourself an big, opaque black hat (much easier to control than a piece of black cardboard), put the hat over the front of the lens, open the shutter BEFORE the burst, move the hat out of the way when you get a feel for the pending explosion and leave it off for say 2 seconds. You know - one mississippi, two mississipi and hat back in front. Then close the shutter with the hat in front. Check the histogram. If I am lucky enough to be indoors, I actually tether my camera to my laptop and view the image on the laptop. I then adjust the time the hat stays off to suit the conditions. Not very scientific, but believe it or not, you actually can figure it out this way. It is very difficult to give shutter speed/aperture rules since every event is different as is the ambient lighting.

    - Backgrounds: try to frame the images without having a bright streetlight, etc in the frame. Skyline lights can make a great backdrop, but a honking old streetlight or close up traffic light gets rendered as a blown out distraction.

    - framing: after you watch for a while, you can get to "see" the tracer as the rocket goes up and just anticipate where the display will be. Get the lens into position while holding the hat in front of the open shutter, remove it just before you think it is ready to pop and replace it after the pop is complete.

    A lot of folks recommend getting multiple bursts on one frame. When that works, it can be quite effecitve, but no matter how often I try that, I find that my best keepers are the result of shooting one frame per burst. Of course, there are instances where you can get a series of different bursts in one frame because the shooter sends up multiple rockets. Those are great if you can snag some. I have posted some images that I have taken below demonstrating both one burst/shot and multiple bursts in the a same shot ("not double exposures").

    While you can often get into the rhythmn, there just is no guarantee that you will get useable shots. There is a great deal of the element of luck in this type of shooting. I have been at events where I shot very few images and many came out great and I have shot Macy's firing literally 100 frames and got zip for my efforts. And there is no substitute for practice. Just go out and shoot and have fun.

    here are a few of my images:




    Hope this helps.
  9. Thanks for clarifying the use of the black paper/cardboard, Gordon. I was going to say that this is particularly useful in choosing which bursts you want, I hold it in front of the lens until just after the bursts show, that way I can choose which appear in the picture... that's how I got only red/white/blue last year...like these... not the best shots, but the ones I could find the quickest to show what you can do with this technique.


    View attachment 99079
  10. Wow, some great advice. I'll be sure to try that on Canada day here
  11. If I were you, I would shoot in manual focus mode, manual exposure and definitely shoot off a sturdy tripod and trip the shutter with a remote. I would set the focus to close to infinity and leave it there. Also, I would put the aperture to F/8 or F/11 and leave it there too. I would set the shutter speed to 4 to 5 seconds and leave it there too.

    Here is a sample fireworks I shot last year on July 4th (5s f/11 at 40.0mm iso100) -

    NIKON D2X    ---    40mm    f/11.0    5s    ISO 100
  12. SalM


    May 13, 2007
    Eastern Pa
    OK gang don't bash me or anything but I am somewhat of a novice to this new D40. I was a digital guy for quite some time. I have figured out allot of its settings but have NO idea where to set it to bulb?

    I did buy the Nikkon remote and have been playing with it. Quite handy too. I also don't know how to set the camera to focus to infinity nor adjust the shutter to 4-5 seconds. I have been paying with the Fstop but can't seem to find the options you are refering to. Maybe my D40 doesn't allow me to adjust those? Should have gotten the D80 if that is the case... :( 

    Any suggestions on the D40?
  13. SalM


    May 13, 2007
    Eastern Pa
    OK I broke out the manual and to my dismay I learned some stuff. I didn't think the manual would be good for this but I was able to take it down to bulb. The only wierd thing is I can't seem to get bulb back on the display?

    Any rate, here is my true dilema. My back yard is so dark and I can't get the shutter to open to hold the shot till the fireworks go off then close the shutter via my remote. It seems that it keeps telling me the subject is too dark and the camera will NOT allow it to open? Am I doing something wrong? Inside the house I was able to open the shutter via the remote, then wait a second or two and then hit the remote again and it closed. Pretty neat settings. I will be using a tripod too as I forgot to mention that.

    The fireworks are only about a 1/4 mile from my back yard as they only set them off over the hill from my house so using the 70-300 VR is going to be tough.... The kit lense that came with the camera seems to take great shots too and seeing how I will be using a tripod I feel it will perform OK? Yeah or Neah????

    I can't begin to thank EVERYONE for thier suggestions, links and photos. They are awesome and again, Thank you all! :) 

    Sal M
  14. Sam, set your camera on manual.
  15. photoshooter

    photoshooter Guest

    This may be to late to help,

    Tripod, remote, camera, lens.

    Camera on tripod, connect the remote cord.

    Put camera in manual focus mode, af-s, aperture anything between f8-f13,

    I would use a timed shutter speed. 2seconds etc. Take a few test shots.
    focus on infinity, i use a 18-200, this gives some latitude as to framing the shot, by using the zoom.

    In order to use the remote, you press once to take each photo, so once you hear the boom of the fireworks, press the button on the remote and the shutter and camera will take a photo.

    every time you see aburst you want to capture just repeat, the action.

    you do need to look thru the viewfinder every once and awhile, the bursts are not always exactly in the same place in the sky.

    fireworks are wonderful to shoot.
  16. SalM


    May 13, 2007
    Eastern Pa
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  17. GlenF

    GlenF Guest

    A great and timely thread. It's not my thread but a big thanks to Reptile Guy, simonramsden, CliffB, greyflash, and RickW. And thanks SalM for asking the question. What a great forum.
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