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Happy 4th of July! | Fireworks Tutorial

Happy Independence Day everyone!  ‘murica!  Each year my family (Tyler’s) camps out together in the most optimal field for fireworks at Kaboom Town in Addison, and each year is full of traditions such as flag cakes, fun games, lawn chairs, and of course, fireworks!

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This year we gathered along one of the roads near Addison Airport where we enjoyed a mini-airshow and all the Sonic you could ask for.  My mom baked her traditional flag cake that we enjoy each year along with some festive fruit-kabobs.  The giant Jenga set that my parents brought soon became the happening social spot for all the surrounding kids 10 and under.

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The biplane came back out right before the show shooting fireworks from his plane.

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A Fireworks Mini-Tutorial

For those with a DSLR who are up for a challenge.
Or feel free to scroll down for fireworks pictures! ;)

Fireworks can be a lot of fun to photograph, but they can also be kinda tricky.  Since you’ll be needing to shoot long exposures for this, it’s best to try and shoot in an area where city or nearby lights won’t be bleeding light into the sky.  Here’s a simple toolkit you can use to get shots similar to those below.

  • A camera with a bulb mode or one with which you can adjust the shutter speed.
  • A tripod. This is a must, otherwise your photos will look shaky.
  • A telephoto lens. Or the longest lens you can get your hands on.

Since we’ll be shooting on a long exposure, I’m going to set my ISO very low around 100.  You can adjust this later based on how bright or dim you want the fireworks to appear, but last night I parked it there.  I also set my aperture around 2.8-5.  The lower the number, the wider your aperture (also referred to as faster), and the larger your bokeh (the out of focus light) will appear.  This will come into play if you want to blur the fireworks as they spread, which I’ll explain below.  Also remember to set your focus on manual, so it doesn’t continually keep searching for focus.

** Warning! Science Content **

Cameras operate by exposing a sensor (or as it used to be, film) to light.  A lens focuses the light in front of the camera onto the sensor, and a shutter flips up to allow the light to shine on the sensor.  The longer the shutter is open, the more light comes in and thus the brighter your image.  If the light source (fireworks in this case) is moving, it’ll create a trail along the image.  This is why if you’ve ever tried to take a picture of a fast moving object in a dark environment, the picture may have been blurry.  The camera allowed the shutter to stay open longer so that more light could come in, but since the subject was moving, it was blurred.

The most basic way to shoot fireworks is what I’ll call, firework trails.  They look like the image below, and you just hold the shutter open while the firework is going off.  If you’ve ever tried light painting, it’s basically the same thing, except the fireworks are now the source of light.  I prefer to shoot on bulb mode so that I can control when to start and stop the exposure.

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It’s hard to know exactly when they’re going to go off, so it’s a lot of trial and error.  You’ll probably throw away at least two thirds of the ones you take the first time you do it.  Play around with different lengths of exposures on different looking fireworks.  Each one will be unique in its own way.

The other type of picture I like to shoot is achieved by blurring the shot out of focus as the firework expands.  This creates the effect of each spark growing as it expands.  You have to be fast though – it is an explosion that you’re having to compete with after all.  Once you get the hang of it though you’ll be getting a lot of unique ones with each different firework shape and sizzle, yes sizzle.  You can even try reversing it by starting out of focus and then going into focus.

So enjoy your 4th of July everyone, and take some beautiful photos!

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