So this time of year in the United Kingdom, many people will be enjoying fireworks displays and bonfires to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. For those who aren’t familiar with the night, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament (Westminster Palace) on the 5th November 1605, but he was caught and executed. Thus every year on that date he is burned in effigy (less so nowadays due to health and safety concerns) and a fireworks display usually accompanies.
Well, the 5th of November is still ahead of us, but some friends and I attended a fireworks display with near St Albans Cathedral last night, held during the convenience of the weekend. This is probably one of the largest organised displays in the south of England. Now, Nasim has written about capturing fireworks in the past, and far be it from me to deviate from his excellent teaching. I can only elaborate on how I decided to capture these fireworks myself, and it may provide you with some ideas.
My main aim was not to capture long streaks associated with long exposures, but to get as close as possible to the zenith of each burst. The shutter speed I wanted to shoot at (explained below) negated the use of a tripod so I shot everything hand-held. My friends and I were fortunate to be lakeside for the display, and the fireworks made some colourful reflections in the water.
Now, of course, shooting hand-held in the dark (at the shutter speed I wanted) will require a higher ISO, so I took along my Nikon D600, whose full frame sensor is more capable at higher ISOs than my EM-5. I set the Auto ISO to ‘ON’, with a maximum ISO of 5000. The upper limit of its native ISO range is 6400, but I didn’t feel the need to go that high. The light from the fireworks would often cause the camera to choose a lower ISO. I thus let the camera choose the ISO, and my resulting images ranged between ISOs of 250 to 5000. Naturally, there was noise in many of the images, but as I tend to enjoy my images as a whole I didn’t care that much about it. And in any case I knew the noise could be reduced in post.
I used the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 (a DX lens) as a 16mm prime, and the aperture set to F/2.8 in Manual Mode. The shutter speed was set to 1/30 secs. I have found on past occasions that this speed works for me, and so all the images here were captured at that speed.
Being neither privy to the organisation of the display nor clairvoyant, I had to try and time when the bursts would occur and then fire off a few shots. So, yes, there was a little trial and error involved, and I wasn’t always successful.
Focusing in changing light (going from very bright to dark between bursts of fireworks) can possibly confuse the camera’s AF, so I established focus on the first few bursts and then kept focus locked in this position using the AE/AL lock button next to the viewfinder. This ensured that every successive shot would be in focus. With a wide-angle lens at the distance I was from the fireworks focus was pretty much at infinity anyway. On a previous occasion, I manually focused on the trees under the fireworks and then shot everything from there, which freed me from having to worry about the AF.
Out of curiosity, I brought along the EM-5 to run off a few shots at the end. This flies in the face of my aspirations to keep things light, but I drove to the event and one extra (and smaller) camera in my bag wasn’t a terrible burden for the hour or so. The Olympus 12-40mm F/2.8 was attached to the EM-5, again with an aperture of F/2.8 and shutter speed of 1/30sec set in Manual Mode. As the m4/3 sensor isn’t as capable in such low light as the larger full frame sensor, I set the maximum ISO to just 1600. (The first image in this article is shot with the EM-5; these images are not in any order.)
I processed the images in Lightroom, deepening the contrast or blacks to make the fireworks a little punchier. I didn’t really touch the colours since they were already quite vivid. Noise reduction was done with the Luminescence tab only and varied between values of 20 and 50.
Pixel peepers will undoubtedly complain that individual leaves on the trees below aren’t perfectly sharp at the pixel level, but you’ll have to imagine how little I care about that in images of fireworks.
Anyway, while these aren’t the best fireworks images I’ve ever taken, I came away with some pleasing results (they please me anyway!). I hope you will venture out and do even better. Please don’t spend the entire display shooting, however; you should appreciate the spectacle with your own eyes too.
Warm Regards, Sharif.