Since fireworks aren’t something we see every day, most of us don’t have a chance to get much practice photographing fireworks. And since displays often only last a few minutes, the show could be over before you start getting good at capturing the event on camera.
Fortunately, with a little thought in advance and some quick and careful choices while the show is happening, you can photograph fireworks like a pro every time there’s a holiday or special event when someone sends up a gunpowder-fueled light show.
Here are five tips for photographing fireworks better than you ever have before:
1. Anticipate the action.
Snap your photos before you see the biggest explosions and displays, not after. All cameras have some lag time, and things happen so quickly during a fireworks show that if you snap when you see something great, it will often be gone by the time the picture is recorded on your card.
2. Take multiple shots.
Precisely because images are recorded onto a card instead of film these days, there’s no reason to limit yourself. Snap lots of images of each spectacle you want to capture — making sure, of course, that you have the largest possible card in your camera or camera phone. You’ll go home with many more good ones than you will if you only snap each display once or twice. And you can delete the worst ones before anyone sees them.
3. Include the skyline and other familiar framing elements.
Photographing fireworks high in the sky may show the biggest and best displays, but without some familiar skyline elements or local landmarks, the images might as well be pictures from Indonesia that you downloaded online. Fireworks often look alike, but no one else will have exactly your vantage point of the show in your city, so show off the city too.
4. Capture the people and festivities as well as the show.
Before the show starts, take some pictures of your vantage point, the festival, your family and the people around you. Years from now, the festivities will matter more than the show. Also, get images of people watching the fireworks. Shows usually start slow, so snap a few shots of people pointing at the first small displays, then aim your camera at the show itself once things get going.
5. Remember to actually watch and enjoy the show.
You want to celebrate too, don’t you? Don’t forget to put the camera down after you get some great shots or sometime during the show so you can enjoy the party. Whether it’s the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve or some other kind of event, you deserve your chance to see the beautiful displays through your own eyes. If you’re only going to see them on a screen, you might as well stay home and watch a celebration on TV.
Which would you rather be: a spectator who sees everything through a lens but only captures a few good images or a participant in the action who snaps away at the most important sights of the day and puts the camera down occasionally too?
Done poorly, photographing fireworks takes you away from the action and leaves you acting like an outsider when you could be a participant in the fun.
Done properly, however, photographing fireworks along with the people and festivities around them can contribute to your enjoyment of an event and help you preserve your fond memories for generations.