July 3, 2010

Tips for Shooting Fireworks with a DSLR

If you're looking to shoot stills this July 4th, here are some great tips for doing so. But if you've got a DSLR of the movie-shooting variety, there are some additional things to keep in mind:

  1. Bring your best zoom lens -- preferably a stablized one. Fast primes are great for narrative work but you can't beat the flexibility that a zoom lens gives you for framing fireworks that are (hopefully) far away.
  2. Use a tripod -- if we're talking about huge airborne fireworks displays and not kids running around with sparklers, shooting video will make your lack of tripod even more obvious than shooting stills. With high ISO settings and a stabilized zoom lens, you could probably shoot decent firework stills handheld, but your video will really benefit from a 'pod (tri- or at least mono-).
  3. Lock down your shutter speed, ISO, and exposure settings. The sky will be changing brightness so rapidly and dramatically that any setting left on automatic will be constantly (and distractingly) trying to compensate. Just be careful not to expose for the night sky -- anticipate the brightness will rise dramatically, and then react accordingly.
  4. Be aware of rolling shutter artifacts -- in the case of fireworks, these would manifest as flashes that only cover part of the image. However, fireworks are often plentiful in number and far enough away that the sky changes brightness more gradually than would a flash from a nearby strobe light or camera flash.

Overall, the sensitivity of DSLRs like the 5D, 7D, T2i, and GH1 allow for great night shooting. For example, this was shot at f/2.8 and ISO2000:

If you're curious, here's a comparison of a 5D Mark II versus a Panasonic HDX-400. The HDX looks much cleaner, but of course it's also a $40,000 camera (albeit an older model):

Whether or not you break the DSLR out, happy July 4th! ((I figured this post might be handier if I posted it a day early...)) Anyone have any tips of their own for shooting fireworks?

Oh, and since we're celebrating America's independence from the English, I can't help but be reminded of this American soccer ball recently celebrating its independence from England goalie Robert Green:

Given America was founded by immigrants, there's something more fitting about embedding the Univision version. ¡Allí estaba!

[Fireworks photo by flickr user Amyn Kassam (CC-BY-NC-SA), shot on a Nikon D60]

Your Comment

5 Comments

Great tips. I plan on using them this coming July 4th. Let's hope my Canon 30D will hold up at 1600 ISO

July 3, 2010 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

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Thanks for the video, I use a Sony NEX-VG20EH but am struggling with the settings, do I want a large iris and a low gain say 6db? or a higher iris say f7.1 and a higher gain at 24db?
Thanks
Dan

February 5, 2012 at 8:54AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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dan

Sorry I forgot to say I'm shooting fireworks too.

February 5, 2012 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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dan

Thanks for the helpful tips! I plan on experimenting this 4th. I also came across a post that offers tips for those who'd like to try and shoot fireworks shots with their mobiles. Thought some of your readers may be interested: http://www.real.com/resources/fireworks-video-shooting-tips

July 2, 2013 at 12:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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June 19, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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