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Photographing Fireworks

I haven’t photographed fireworks in years. Every year I say I’m going to do it and every year we are running late and scrambling to get there so I end up not taking my camera. This year, I made it a point to grab it before we left, but in our usual rush (you’d think we’d figure it out by now, it’s the same time every year) I didn’t realize I had the wrong lens attached. I wanted to bring my wide angle 17mm - 40mm F4 and instead brought my 35mm F1.8. Not a huge deal, but it illustrates two things that people sometimes overlook when shooting fireworks. 

The common approach to shooting fireworks is to use long exposures. If you’ve ever taken a cityscape shot at night, it’s the same concept. A long exposure at a small aperture will create sharp image trails the same way these settings produce sharp starbursts and light trails on lights in a night shot. Setting the ISO low around 200 will keep the noise in check and produce a clear image. Keep in mind, smoke from the fireworks can create a noise effect. This will be worse on humid nights with no breeze.

Essentially, you are light painting and using the fireworks as your light source.  Depending on the environment you’re in, the settings will be different, so there is a little bit of trial and error to dial them in. The most important thing to get started is a sturdy tripod and a cable release. I’m not a big fan of lugging things I don’t really need, so I do one of two things to get around the cable release. Either set your camera’s timer (my 5D has a 2 second delay) or push down on the tripod / camera when you fire the shutter. This is similar to hanging a weight (camera bag) on the tripod for stabilization. Keeping a camera still is hard, but if you force it down (push on it) you can brace it against mirror flap. this also works in a pinch if you have no tripod and need to shoot at slow shutter speeds.

Typically the exposure settings can be anywhere from a couple seconds to over 30 settings in which case depending on your camera, you might need to use the Bulb setting. Remember to turn off any image stabilization and autofocus. Setting the focus to infinity is fine as in most cases you’ll be far away.

The settings for the shot at the beginning of this post were: 2 seconds @ F11 | ISO-200. Below are some more shot with similar settings.


Since I didn’t have the lens I wanted with me, I decided to experiment a bit. 

What I did have was a Tamron SP 35mm F/1.8 Di VC USD. The reason I would have rather my other lens is that as stated above, I was going to be shooting long exposures so the F1.8 didn’t matter. The image stabilization, Tamron calls it vibration compensation, also wasn’t needed because I had a tripod. The focal length was a bit tight at 35mm, more on that later. 

Taking advantage of the fast lens, I shot the following two shots at 1/125 @ F1.8 - ISO 1600


I’m not showing these because they are the best shots ever recorded, rather just to show what the other side of the coin looks like. I like the shots, they are better than I thought they would be, but nothing I would put in a portfolio. 

The smoke competes with the light produced from the fireworks. In the long exposures, the smokes blurs and the light overpowers it, in some cases allowing a stark contrast of color against a solid black background. It’s not possible to get that contrast with the faster shutter speed. But these shots have a more instant feel to them, they more closely represent what it actually looked liked at the time.  So if you find yourself in a similar situation, but with no tripod, this might be a way to at least get something useable.

The other problem with the 35mm is that it is a bit tight for this situation. There is no context in the shots. A wider angle would have allowed better framing incorporating more of the people watching or the environment instead of a tight crop right on the fireworks. one aspect that most people don’t realize about photos of fireworks is that the look better shot from above. Using either a drone or a helicopter. This is because these shots have context. The ground and the environment provide a scale and backdrop that works with the fireworks. My shots don’t have this because I wasn’t wide enough. 

Fireworks over a river or shot near a large structure such as a bridge or museum will always look better than ones shot without context. Keep in mind that shooting them in an environment with more light will require you to take that into account when adjusting your settings. Exposing for a structure or skyline may mean the shutter needs to speed up so the fireworks don’t overpower the structure.

Good luck and don’t forget to have fun!



Selling Prints on Fine Art America


Over the years, I’ve belonged to many different websites related to photography. Most of the websites were portfolio based sites designed to showcase your work. Sites like Photoblink500pxFlickrTumblr, etc. You get the idea. During this time I’ve also had my own portfolio website (no not this one) ……this one: dgoakill.com   It is a Zenfolio site I created back in 2008. I still have it and it’s undergone many transitions over the years, mainly because it’s so cheap compared to a lot of the other options on the internet. One of the big advantages of the site is that it has print on demand options and a very good payment system. Visually, that’s another story for another post.

Back in 2008, there were not a lot of options like SquareSpace and the dozens of others that have popped up in recent years. But, a lot of them don’t have the same robust back-end when it comes to selling images or making prints. What Zenfolio lacks in looks, it makes up for in brains…for the most part. However, though my site has been there and on the web for almost 8 years, I don’t rank very high in search engines (mostly my fault SEO wise) mainly do to the fact that my work is all images and not text. Even my blog is all images. Posts like this will do more for rankings than only posting images which is common sense these days. I’ve just always had a problem writing gibberish in order to get ranked. Getting noticed and making sales is tough in photography in general, even harder when most of your work is of regular people who didn’t even know you were taking their picture.

Most of my sales are through word of mouth and random luck (or so I think) as I do nothing to really promote myself. Sites like Zenfolio and others don’t do much to help in that regard either, as they are a service, not really a community or a hub. That’s where sites like Fine Art AmericaSociety6, & Red Bubble come in. While I’ve belonged to all of these sites, the most success I’ve had has been through Fine Art America. I’ve had more sales than the other two combined. Again, doing little work to promote. Mostly, just uploading my work and dropping a note here or there on Twitter & Facebook.

While all of these sites have vibrant communities with targeted audiences, Fine Art America has, or at least seems to me, to have a more diverse group of users. The site also has a very noticeable presence on the web, and if you belong to it, you can get the benefit of that presence. Of course there is a lot of competition on the site itself, and just being on there doesn’t mean much in general, it does at least put you in a better position to be found.

I still sell through my old (main ?) website, but I’ve had more exposure through Fine Art America. The prices I charge are much cheaper than through my old site, but the quantity of sales has evened out the price difference. So if you’re looking for a place to try and test the market for print sales, check them out. It’s free to join with some limitations, but premium accounts are only $30 a year. I waited until I made a sale to upgrade, so it paid for itself. Literally.

Here’s a link to the membership plans page: http://fineartamerica.com/membershipplans.html

My gallery is here or through the “Buy Prints” button in the menu.

Good luck!

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