Last Friday, I joined about twenty other Bay Area Photo Club members at our monthly field trip to photograph fireworks in Kemah. Neal Kelsoe and Mark Westerman did a great job selecting a great place and providing some instruction on how to do it. The basic instructions included: manual focus at infinity, manual mode, aperture of f/13, bulb shutter speed (2-3 seconds), 50-100mm lens, on a tripod and use of shutter release.
I looked at the field trip as an opportunity to sharpen my skills (which are not that good) at photographing firework. However, when I saw that first firework, my mindset immediately switched to getting a great fireworks photo. Big mistake.
I fired shot after shot without really looking at the display. Finally, I took a little time to see what I had—NOTHING. I generally held the shutter open for 2 to 3 seconds, but that seemed to make the fireworks look blurred. So, I changed my strategy—ISO 1600, aperture f/8 and shutter speed between 1.5 and 2 seconds. Immediately I got better results, or what I thought was better results.
What did I learn from this outing?
Remember your intentions when the gun goes off—I wanted to improve my skills at photographing fireworks, but my focus was trying to get a great photo. I did not look at my display to get feedback.
I think that most of the fireworks look best using a shutter speed of 1.5 to 2.0 seconds, so next time, I will probably go shutter speed priority at 1.5 or 2.0 seconds and then look at what I am getting.
Higher ISO allow you to get ambient light that you want. So, dial-in the shutter speed that is best and then select an f-stop that will get you the ambient exposure you want. I look at it similar to using flash photography, but only in reverse.
Here are two of the shots that I liked best.
Camera settings: Nikon D3, Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 shot at 70mm, ISO 1,600, f/8 and 1.5 and 1.7 seconds and set white balance to tungsten (to make sky bluer).
Lightroom—Set black and white points, added clarity and increased contrast.
Photoshop—used spot healing to clean-up various ugly spots.