Most everyone will tell you that shooting fireworks handheld is a mistake. And I’m not entirely disagreeing with them. But I also don’t think it’s really a mistake. You can still get some incredible images you will love and enjoy as long as you pay attention to a few details. Things like shutter speed and ISO are super important. So here are a few lessons I learned in shooting fireworks over the last several years.
1 – Timing is everything. You need to be very aware of your camera and how it performs. It’s especially important to know how long it takes for the shutter to release. This will help you with knowing how far in advance of what you want to capture you need to press the button.
2 – Burst mode is very helpful (might be called continuous on your camera). This will enable you to capture several images very quickly and then you can stitch them together in Photoshop (or a similar program) to create more depth to your handheld image.
3 – Adjust your ISO, not your shutter speed. Especially when handheld, it’s important to leave your shutter speed fairly fast so you don’t have camera shake. I’ve gone through my images from last year when I handheld my only fireworks images and they are pretty shaky. They would be less shaky if I had bumped my ISO instead of changing the shutter speed.
4 – Capture part of the background to give depth to your images because you won’t have as much depth to the actual fireworks. Even if it’s just a tree or a roofline, sometimes having something else in the image gives a perspective that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
For the image above, my settings were as follows: ISO 100, 50 mm, .5 second exposure, f8. Looking back, I should have left the shutter speed at about 1/125 and bumped my ISO to 800. I think it would have created a stronger image. On the other hand, it was fun hanging out with family and lighting off fireworks in the street (yes, it’s legal here). And sometimes, fun is more important than perfect.
If you’re preparing for the holiday weekend in the U.S., don’t forget your camera. And take time to enjoy the fireworks displays with family and friends.