Independence Day and Fireworks

It is so hard to believe we find ourselves in the month of July.  However, sad it is to see that summer is rushing right past us, it is also an exciting time.  In two days, it will be one of my favorite Holidays.  The Fourth of July is right up there with Christmas for me.  I love to see all the decorations, and the Firework displays have always fascinated me.  I can remember going to my Aunts and sitting along the pool watching my Dad and Uncles set off the fireworks.   Then once I moved to Morgantown I started watching the show the city set off.

Fireworks have long been part of our world culture for over 2,000 years, and have been part of festivals and celebrations ever since they were discovered.  When fireworks were first created in China the people of that time believed that fireworks could expel evil spirits and bring happiness and luck.  I know they have the happiness part right because I could not be any happier than I am watching the colors burst in the sky.  When the America’s settlers came to North America, they brought with them their love and enthusiasm for fireworks way before America celebrated Independence Day.   In 1777, was the very first celebration of Independence Day, this was six years before Americans knew if the new nation would survive the ongoing war.  Fireworks works were part of all the festivities that year and have been ever since.  When most Americans think of fireworks they associate it to the Fourth of July celebrations.  However, this is not the only time of year they are used in America.  We typically will see them at festivals, celebrations at the State and Town levels, Sporting Events, and New Years.

I can remember when I started taking Photographs of Fireworks.  My friend Rose asked if I wanted to join her and her son to watch them in Morgantown.  Her favorite spot was the parking garage in downtown.  I wasn’t too sure about this but it ended up being a great location for watching and photography.  At that time, I did not have a tripod so the edges of the parking garage made a great stable area for me to put my camera on.  I started several days before researching on the internet what settings I should use for my camera.  My old Point and Shoot camera had a Fireworks setting but my DSLR did not.  This was the first time I attempted to go manual on my camera from the settings to the focusing of the camera.  One thing I learned is the autofocus on as the camera will just keep searching for objects when it is dark and not allowing you to take any shots until it finds something to focus on.  It is best to focus it in before the show and just leave it.  During the show, I try not to zoom in on the fireworks, if you do you need to make sure you refocus the lens.  Play around with your F stops and find the best one for your camera.  Typically, it should be between and f/8.0 – f/16.0.  Another setting you will want to set is your ISO setting.  With having an older camera my photos do not turn out well if the ISO is above 1,000, I set mine from Auto to 100 which is the lowest setting my camera has, make sure you are using RAW format for your images.   You have more ability to remove defects such as noise in Post editing due to the image capturing more information than a JPEG.  The next area you will need to adjust is your shutter speed.  Your shutter speed will affect the type of firework images you take, the less time the shutter is open will shorten the length of the firework trails, and longer the shutter is open will extend them, however, this also tends to lighten up the surrounding area as the camera is receiving more light to the sensor.  I tend to play around with the shutter speed during the show, using the 1 second and 3-second speeds the camera has built in, however, your best option is the bulb setting which allows you to hold do the button and then release it when you want to.  This brings us to our next suggestion, get a shutter remote, this way when you push the button you are not touching the camera which helps with better shots and you can enjoy the show instead of constantly paying attention to the camera.  Although I would suggest from time to time to look through the viewfinder or look at the images as they pop up on the camera to make sure everything is okay.  There is nothing worse getting home only to realize that something happened to the focus and everything is blurry.  To help even more with stability bring a tripod with you unless you have a flat area for your camera to rest that is the perfect angle your photos are going to come out blurry.  The tripod and shutter remote should help you achieve the best shots you can capture.  On a side note it is also suggested that when using a tripod, you should turn off your cameras stabilization.  Once the show is over try to remember or write down your settings, when you only take firework photos a couple times a year it is easy to forget them and you do not want to waste your time trying to figure them out during the show.  Another good suggestion is to get to your location when there is still some daylight.  If you know the general area the fireworks will be let off this helps you frame in your scene.

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Fourth of July.   I am always interested in suggestions when taking photos so if you have any additional suggestions on taking Firework Photography please feel free to leave me a note.

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