Posts Tagged ‘Fireworks’


Tips for Taking Pictures of Fireworks

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Ah, it’s that time of year. In a couple of days, towns and cities all over the country are going to be having fireworks displays, and I have to say, cooking out on the grill with friends & family then sitting in the grass watching fireworks is one of my favorite things. Fireworks are beautiful and make for beautiful, striking and colorful photographs, but they’re also technically challenging to photograph well, primarily because there isn’t a whole lot of light.

If you’re planning to take pictures of fireworks this weekend, there are a few things you can do to make your pictures much better.

“Fireworks, Portland Maine”: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM @ f/22, 100mm, 25 sec., ISO 400. ©Chris Conti Photography

#1: Camera Support. Because it’s nighttime and there’s very little light, the camera is going to need a very slow shutter speed (ie, a long exposure) to get enough light to properly expose the photo, and therefore needs to be held very still to prevent the picture from being blurry. It is very difficult to hold the camera steady enough in your hand, so you need to use something else to keep the camera from moving during the exposure. The most common kind of camera support is a tripod: if you’ve got one and are able to carry it with you, great. That’s your best option. If not though, there are other things you can do to steady the camera: anything you can rest the camera on can be used to steady it – this could be a backpack you put on the ground and then the camera on top of; a jacket you ball up, or even a fence rail, window sill or other fixed structure that the camera can sit on.

#2: The longest exposure you can manage! In the photo above, there are at least a half a dozen individual fireworks exploding. They didn’t all go off at the same time! By keeping the camera exposure as long as you can, you can pull off a trick: since the fireworks are so bright against the night sky, one going off after another after another will have the effect of “layering” the explosions on top of each other, and the single photo will end up having lots of explosions that happened at different times. The photo above was exposed for 25 seconds, so all of the explosions that happened during that whole 25 seconds show up in the photo. The flip side of this trick though, is that the camera needs to be help absolutely still for the whole time, or else the photo will be blurry, so the camera support above is that much more important.

In cameras that have full manual controls (SLR cameras and other high-end ones), setting a long exposure is easy (with an SLR camera you should also use a small aperture [high f-stop #] to gain a deeper depth of field and allow a longer exposure!). In other cameras like “point & shoot” types that can fit in your pocket, it can be trickier or impossible to set longer exposures (on some models, the “exposure compensation” can be turned all the way up to force the camera to take a longer exposure).


Fireworks, Somerville Massachusetts: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM @ f/16, 17mm, 30 sec., ISO 100. ©Chris Conti Photography


#3 Avoid the smoke. When fireworks go off they make a lot of smoke, and if the air is humid or there isn’t much wind, the smoke can hang around and obscure a clear view of the fireworks going off. If you can, try to pick a spot up-wind from where the fireworks are going to go off, so that the smoke gets blown away from you, instead of in your face. Photos look a lot better without a ton of smoke in them.

#4 Avoid extraneous light sources when you can (or at least figure out how to keep them from being distracting)! Extraneous light sources can be distracting in an image, especially since they’re going to be magnified many times in brightness by the long exposures you’re going to be using. In the image above, there were a bunch of light sources (street lights) that just couldn’t be avoided without really screwing up the framing of the image. I did work though to keep a really, really bright light that was facing straight at me out of the frame to the left. Even so though, you can see the light and lens flare that came from that light.

Good luck, and have fun!

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Somerville Fireworks (& The Boston Globe)

Friday, July 1st, 2011

So I walked over to my town’s local fireworks display last night (right around the corner from my house), and just for fun, I carried along a camera and tripod (of course… it’s just who I am). It was crazy – a much bigger production than I’d assumed: all of the streets were blocked off, there were thousands of people in the streets, food trucks, etc etc.:

The crowd for the Somerville fireworks display: iPhone photo ©Chris Conti Photography

No sooner than I had set up my tripod I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as writer for the Boston Globe, asking me who I was there shooting for (in other words, if I worked for another news organization). When I replied that I’m a self-employed photographer and was just there shooting photos for my own amusement, she asked if she could use one of my photos for her Globe article – apparently the Globe “didn’t have budget” to send one of their own photographers to cover the event.

Everyone knows that times are very tough for print media organizations – since everyone is getting their news online, newspapers’ subscriber bases are evaporating and with them go the newspapers’ revenue, which has resulted in terrible staff cuts at just about every paper. But it is a sad state of affairs indeed when a leading regional newspaper “doesn’t have budget” to pay a photojournalist to cover an event on which they plan to publish a story, and this was an example of why I am very, very glad that I am not a photojournalist.

In any case, I was there shooting photos anyway, and since they’d already decided they weren’t going to pay for photography of the event (that much was clear) I told the writer that provided I was given proper credit for the photo, I’d give the Globe one to run with their story*. The writer took my email address, and several hours later via email I sent her a few photos I captured from the evening.

For the Globe’s article, they picked one of the photos I sent, and the writer actually quoted me as well (which I didn’t know she was going to do! If I’d known I was going to be quoted, I’d have paid attention to my grammar!). The article can be seen here:

Here are a few of the photos I shot that night (it really was a great display, and as Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone was sure to point out, the fireworks didn’t cost taxpayers a dime, since they were funded in full through private donations).

Fireworks, Somerville Massachusetts: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM @ f/16, 17mm, 30 sec., ISO 100. ©Chris Conti Photography

Fireworks, Somerville Massachusetts: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM @ f/16, 17mm, 30 sec., ISO 100. ©Chris Conti Photography

Fireworks, Somerville Massachusetts: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM @ f/16, 17mm, 30 sec., ISO 100. ©Chris Conti Photography

*: I understand this issue may anger some professionals in the industry who rely on paying editorial work. The debate about shooting for pay vs. shooting solely for a credit is not an insignificant one, and it is truly embarrassing for the Globe  that they have cut back so dramatically on paying editorial work that they didn’t send a staff photographer or editorial freelancer to shoot something that they thought was important enough to warrant a story. It is a bad time to be an editorial photographer or photojournalist indeed.

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