While asking Tribune photographer David Middlecamp to dig through our archives for old Fourth photos, we also asked him to share tips on photographing fireworks. Heres what he said:
Set the camera on a tripod pre-focused with the desired composition. A local landmark like a pier or a person watching the fireworks can give a sense of scale. Pre-scouting locations will give a sense of what lens is needed. My best frames have fallen in the 24mm-80mm range.
Select a low ISO setting. This will yield finer grain and allow longer exposures.
Turn off the flash unless you have something in the immediate foreground you want to light.
Make a test exposure of 10-30 seconds and adjust the aperture to yield the base exposure you like. If your camera has a bulb mode lock, keep the shutter open and use a black card to cover the lens when no fireworks are in the sky.
If you dont have a remote release, use the self timer to minimize shaking the camera during the exposure.
Longer shutter speed equals more fireworks recorded. Smaller apertures will give more depth of field and control how bright the fireworks appear.
With the black card over the lens, click the shutter when you hear the cannon go off . Uncover when you hear or see the explosion. Cover when the fireworks burn out if you want to stack fireworks bursts but limit how bright the background exposure becomes between bursts.
Digital photographers have it lucky they can shoot, review and adjust on the fly. Shoot a lot of frames; theres a large variation in shape and brightness. Dont be afraid to try more than one composition if you feel comfortable making adjustments in the dark.
On days with low wind, early frames are usually the sharpest, as smoke builds up in the sky.
If the fog rolls in, you may be out of luck with the sky and have to take pictures of kids shaking sparklers. A long shutter speed with a light end of curtain flash sometimes works well for this.