Wednesday, June 30, 2010
It’s not our usual Focus on Photos post…but we couldn’t let a fabulous photography opportunity pass by without giving you a few ideas to try!
We had a spontaneous block party in my neighborhood the other night and I decided to pull out the leftover fireworks from last July 4th. It was mostly sparklers and smaller fireworks of the ground-spinning variety, but there were plenty of kids of all ages on hand to enjoy them! Best of all – I was able to walk around the festivities trying my hand at fireworks photography!
For me this little “experiment” wasn’t about photographing the kids, but the fireworks themselves. It’s so rare for me to have a chance to try out something like this that I consciously decided that I wanted to play with photographing the light and not the kids. You’ll want to have an idea of what you wish to capture before you get started, too.
My objective: Use slow shutter speeds to capture the movement of light from the fireworks!
- Gather your equipment: tripod & camera.
- Lighting…you’ll want to encourage everyone to hold out for it to be as dark as possible before the festivities begin. I took some photos around dusk, but my favorites were from later in the evening when it was nearly dark. In my neighborhood I also had to deal with utility light poles, so I set up in the darkest part of the cul-de-sac with my tripod.
- Initial settings: set your ISO to 100, your aperture to f6, and set shutter speed to 1/100.
- Set your camera to single shot mode (not continuous). Later you’ll try some photos with much slower shutter speeds and single shot is all you need!
Before you start asking subjects to pose for you (trust me, they get sick of it!)…take several practice shots to see what your exposure looks like. This is where chimping, a photography term that means looking at your LCD display to see how your photos look as you take them, is a perfect solution! Find a slow moving kid with a sparkler or a spot where ground firework will be lit, and get ready to focus! as soon as you see the lighting, focus on the firework and then start shooting away. Take a few, then view them through the LCD to see if you like the results. You need to use your tripod (or prop the camera on some other stable resting place) to ensure that you don’t interrupt the light patterns with shake or motion introduced by the camera. Here are some of the very first shots I took that night:
Notice the difference in these two photos! they were only taken two minutes apart, yet the results are significantly different. The photo on the left was taken first, with a relatively fast shutter speed. The sparks from the sparklers only had time to create very short trails of light. Compare this one to the photo on the right, with the significantly longer light trails! But because I decreased the ISO and slowed the shutter speed, more of the background content is illuminated. Once I had these sample photos, I just kept on playing, changing one item at a time to see what yielded the best results!
For me, I decided that I liked the stark contrast of the brilliant light and the very dark – even black – background. So I closed up the aperture (higher f-number) and kept the ISO very low. Even with shutter speed of half a second, none of the ambient streetlight was picked up in my images at these higher f-stops!
I tried two different lenses, an 85mm and a 30mm, and my favorite results were with the 85mm. You might want to play with this yourself, but if you have it, I recommend starting out with a 50mm for your photo session!
Play with shutter speed
A “fast” shutter speed (around 1/100 is about as fast as you can go in such low light, but depends on your distance from the fireworks)…will create an effect that seems to “freeze” the firework. The resulting photo is very similar to what you see with your naked eye. I was able to take some shots at 1/100 without using my tripod, which let me interact with the kids and the fireworks up close.
a slow shutter speed (I did half a second (.5), but you can go even slower!!) will result in some really incredible light captures that you’d never see with your naked eye. You will want to use your tripod for these slower shutter speeds.
So after a bit of trial and error (through a totally fun process!) – I got these two shots, my favorites from the night (both at ISO100, f9, .5 sec)…
This above photo was of a traditional sparkler, the kind that emits tiny sparks around all sides as it burns down. This type of sparkler was best photographed head-on, and in this case my “neighborhood assistant” was directly facing me making tiny circular motions with the tip pointed towards me.
The above photo was also a sparkler, but a different type that shot sparks out the front tip. It produced awesome trails of light and this shot was taken from the side with the sparkler pointed to the left.
This was my first time ever getting out there trying my hand at fireworks photography and I really loved my session! In total, I spent about 30-40 minutes photographing and managed to capture at least 20 in-focus photos that are beautiful illustrations of moving light!
I hope this has inspired you to set up your very own mini photo shoot this July 4th holiday!
Join us here again tomorrow, for an all-new template challenge :o)