I was not really planning on photographing the fireworks on July 4th, because I was enjoying a short vacation with my family at Glenwood Springs. When I was told that the fireworks would be fired from an open area behind the hotel where we were staying (less than several hundred feet away), I decided to take the challenge and see if I could capture anything interesting from that close of a distance. As I pointed out in my how to photograph fireworks article, it is generally not a good idea to stand too close to fireworks. I wanted to see what other challenges I would face, considering that I only had two lenses with me, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, shooting on a full frame camera body.
The camera already had the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G mounted on it and I initially did not want to change it, as the wind was a bit too strong. Well, when the fireworks started, after taking the first several shots at 70mm, I quickly realized that I needed to change the lens to Nikon 24-70mm instead – the Nikon 70-200mm was too long:
It took me several minutes to swap the lenses and as a result, I missed more than half of the show (the whole thing only lasted for about 5 minutes). When I resumed shooting, I kept wasting time zooming in/out and refocusing, because even 24mm was too short at that short of a distance. I then changed the orientation of the camera to vertical and left the lens zoom at 24mm, after which I was able to capture a few fine images, although nothing spectacular.
Here some lessons I learned this time when photographing fireworks:
- If you are standing very close to fireworks, make sure that a wide-angle lens is mounted on your camera, or it is very close to you in case you need to swap.
- After changing the lens or focal length of the lens, focus on fireworks right after they explode – the scene will be bright enough for lens to acquire correct focus. Make sure to turn off autofocus on your camera, or the focus might shift next time you try to take a picture. Often times, autofocus will fail, so make sure that you have your focus set and locked! Just moving the AF switch to MF on the lens or your camera body will do the job and it only takes a second.
- Using a remote shutter release in “Bulb” mode truly rocks! You can manually start the exposure right before the explosion and wait as long as needed when the fireworks start fading away.
- Don’t keep the camera shutter speed too slow – several seconds of exposure time is often too long! Instead of beautiful streaks of fireworks, you might be capturing fireworks coming down and looking blurry as a result.
- If it is windy, sometimes waiting for a little after major fireworks explosions can help push some of the smoke out of the air.
- If possible, try to incorporate something in the foreground of the scene, rather than just photographing the fireworks by themselves. This one is tough and requires some planning, but if you know in advance exactly where the fireworks will be firing, you can scout ahead of time and find a good spot.
Hope this helps!