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Shooting Fireworks: very nearly rocket science

The Club ventured out from the cosy confines of the Bolton Arms this bonfire night to practise the art of photographing fireworks. Sometimes photography is more an art than a science – even rocket science – and so it proved on Leyburn Shawl. Some of the usual rules don’t apply. For example, it’s mostly dark but you keep your ISO low. And much of the art comes in the form of guesswork: where will the fireworks appear? How high? How long? How bright? More than anything, it’s a game of trial and error.

Here is some of what we learned…

1 Timing is everything


As you can see from these shots, going too early is almost as bad as too late. Another challenge is guessing the right exposure length, which is too short here to capture the drama and beauty of the display.

A tip from the experts is to get the early fireworks because after a while the lingering smoke clouds the images, like this:

Getting the early fireworks means you need to hit the ground running, which is easier for the experts than for the rest of us. However, there are some things that can be organised in advance, such as setting the camera to manual mode, selecting the ISO (100, don’t forget!), focal length (not too shallow) and exposure time (anything above a second).

It’s also a good idea to focus the lens manually and set it to infinity, or close to it.

2 Portrait or landscape?

This is one of those “how long is a piece of string?” questions. The two images below work because of the relative height of the fireworks.


Deciding which way up to position the camera on the tripod is easy if you know in advance how high the next firework will go. If you don’t happen to be psychic or friends with the organiser, the safest approach is to go for portrait and a wide angle, then crop the dead space when you get back into the warm:

3 Composition

Combining the fireworks with some other feature of interest makes for lovely shots. The London Eye and Sydney Harbour Bridge work really well. So do silhouettes: people standing by the bonfire or – more dramatically – the outlines of trees:


4 Post-production

Finally, in addition to cropping, a few simple tweaks on the computer can bring out the best  in your shots. Try beefing up saturation (as in the shots above). Do the same with highlights and shadows and see the result. Monochrome isn’t recommended.

Or you could go all out for some image manipulation, combining two shots together, such as here:

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(Images courtesy of Andrew Fletcher, Ken Readshaw, Michael Kentish)