Photographing Fabulous fireworks – Owen Wilson Photography

Fireworks can be tricky to capture. You have to set your camera in advance and expect the unexpected. This is because fireworks can be unpredictable, sometimes they go off without a hitch but the angle they are projected to may go askew. When you expect it to be spectacular the wind may come up and blow the smoke in your direction and completely wreck your image. But when it all works to plan and you have your settings right it can be spectacular.

Canberra Fireworks
Camera RB67, Velvia film, 50 asa, f11 aperture, 2 5sec exposure using 90mm lens on a tripod, no flash

This is my very first commissioned fireworks job also my very first fireworks shoot. It was the very first frame I shot, I had a schedule to go by, set my camera up and focused for the exact angle. This could easily have been a catastrophe. But luckily everything went to plan. Did I know this at the time, NO. This was in the days of film, I had to wait until the next day when I came home and process the transparencies. I had taken several shots, and I was lucky the first shot was the best, smoke enclosed after that and with each shot slowly the conditions deteriorated. I was so over the moon having one perfect shot. I did however capture other shots through the night which were incredible but this was to be the hero shot. It was shot during the millennium fireworks on New years’ eve 2000.

Camera RB67, Velvia film, 50 asa, f11 aperture, 25 sec exposure, using 90mm lens on tripod, no flash

This image was shot 2 years later from Mrs. Macquarie’s chair during the new years’ fireworks. The best shots are always going to be at the beginning of the fireworks display. Sometimes you can be lucky if the wind is blowing the smoke away from you and take several shots during the display. The finale of the fireworks is a hit and miss affair as there will be much more smoke than during the display.

Camera Nikon D700, 200 iso, f11 aperture, 4 sec exposure using 24-70mm lens on tripod, no flash

This image was shot during the 2011 New Years’ Eve fireworks, once again it was shot during the start of the fireworks display at 9pm for the children. I also took the following shot but it was during the 12am display to bring in the new year, perfect conditions at this particular time.

Camera Nikon D700, 200 iso, f11 aperture, 4 sec exposure using 24-70mm lens on tripod, no flash

This is the start of the finale of the same year, if you look closely you can see the smoke starting to creep in, the shots that followed this one became progressively worse. But this is how it is sometimes.

Camera Nikon D200, 200 iso, f9 aperture, 25 sec exposure using 70-200mm lens on tripod, no flash

Here is the difference between a good shot and a great shot, the fireworks are spectacular but the positioning is off center.

The following image is perfectly aligned and a much better shot.

Camera Nikon D700, 100 iso, f8 aperture, 5 sec exposure using 70-200mm lens on tripod, no flash

And the next one is a much better coloring of fireworks making for a spectacular shot all round.

Camera Nikon D810, 100 iso, f8 aperture, 5 sec exposure using 70-200mm lens on tripod, no flash

These three shots were all taken during sky fire festival in Canberra. If you check out some of our other blogs you will find more information on the Sky Fire Festival. The blog is titled Canberra Skyfire – with Enlighten and the Balloon festival. We may post another blog on the Balloon festival later.

Another great firework display is in Brisbane during River Fire festival the backdrop for this firework spectacular is the Story Bridge and is held every September in Brisbane as part of their Arts and Cultural event.

Camera Nikon D700, 100 iso, f16 aperture, 4 sec exposure using 24-70mm lens on tripod, no flash

Going from simple to extravagant these 2 images give you the idea when it comes to a good shot or a great shot. The lights on the Story Bridge also add to the wonder.

Camera Nikon D800, 100 iso, f16 aperture, 1 sec exposure using 14-24mm lens on tripod, no flash

There are plenty of firework events to practice on, so go to your local event and start.

Photo tips for the camera enthusiasts: Arrive at your firework event early to find the best position, don’t be pushed or bullied, into relinquishing your spot for anyone. This is the key to capturing the very best angle. Research your event so you know when and where this will be happening and go for it.

One of the best tips I can provide, is to take a shot of the city skyline before the fireworks start, naturally using a tripod. Using f11 aperture, 100iso, set your shutter speed to the ‘B’ setting, and use an electronic cable releaser.

Once you have followed this process, it is critical that you DO NOT knock or move your tripod, because you are going to overlay the fireworks on top of these skyline images. The reason for this is to give you a better exposed city skyline, making for a much better shot with the fireworks.

For more of my images on these events visit www.owenwilson.net.au

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