Pyrotechniques … photographing fireworks

Firework display in Crail
Fireworks, Crail
Sometimes a close up can be very dramatic
Reflections courtesy of Anstruther harbour

Photographing fireworks is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, even when you have a good idea of what to expect from the display. First you need to find a good spot to see them. Yes, mostly at big displays they are up in the air, but not all vantage points are equal, and the backdrop can make a difference, for examples if there are reflections over water that you want to catch – and wherever the best spot is, you can guarantee lots of other people will be there too.

Then you need to decide how much you zoom in. A wide angle will catch a lot of darkness as well as fireworks. You can crop the picture afterwards, but it probably won’t look as good as fireworks that fill the frame. Zooming in on the other hand needs a bit of anticipation and guesswork to ensure you are pointing the camera in the right direction!

Long exposures produce the best results, with firework trails and more explosions making the photo busier and more colourful, so having a tripod might be a good idea in terms of photographic technique, but not if you are surrounded by a crowd.

Quite a lot going on here with three – or four? – different fireworks at the same time

It does help if you can keep your camera steady, but sitting it on a wall might be better than a tripod – the folk around you are unlikely to knock the wall over. At a push, just try hand-holding the camera as steady as possible, and hope the movement of the fireworks masks any movement of the camera.

Some cameras have very good image stabilisation, and will even combine a series of reasonably steady hand held frames into one photograph, producing a image that is similar to a long exposure. Experiment with settings, to see what your camera can do.

Some even have a dedicated fireworks setting (but a manually set long exposure may produce better results). And of course, with long exposures, you want to press the button just as those spectacular rockets burst …

Sometimes the exposure gets a little overwhelmed by light, but St Andrews harbour is well illuminated in the process

Like dandelion seeds in the night sky. I’m allowed to be a bit poetic occasionally.
And sometimes you get the right angle at the right time
A nice colour effect with trails like strings …
Anstruther harbour reflections. If only the display was always timed to coincide with the high tide.
Lots of colour in these fireworks
Wet sand can be good for reflections too – this is Elie beach

Orange spikes on a pink background. Sometimes you see things in the photos that you missed when it was happening. And not just because your eye was glued to the camera viewfinder – that goes blank during a long exposure,.

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