Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ready to shoot fireworks this 4th of July? Here are some tips

4th of July is here. Are you ready to shoot fireworks?
Taking photos of fireworks is not a fun job. I recommend most readers to enjoy the live fireworks instead of trying to take photos to create memories for future joy ;) When you try to take photos, you are in the guessing game. When to click the shutter and how to change settings to make photos come out better. End result is a lost opportunity to enjoy the live fireworks. So my short and sweet advice to most of you is to keep the camera at home so you can fully enjoy those 15 minutes of fireworks. However, if you are like me, I know you are going to try to take some photos of fireworks. If so, read on. Here are some tips for you:
First some Don'ts and then some Dos (tips):
* Don't try to take fireworks photos without a tripod. If you don't have a tripod, find a place to put your camera somewhere so there is no shake. Most fireworks photos require exposure of 2-3 seconds and there is no way anyone can handheld a camera steady for that long period. Any shake and the photo is bad!
* Don't try to take fireworks photos in AUTO mode. If you have a simple camera that has only AUTO mode, see if it allows you to do Exposure Compensation. If so, make it -1 EV.
* I have never tried myself but I don't hesitate to say that don't try to take photos with any cellphone/smartphone or a cheap point and shoot camera.
* Use the Fireworks mode if your camera has it. If there is no fireworks mode, beginners can change to Program mode and change Exposure Compensation to -1 or -1.5.
* If you have an SLR or an advanced Point and Shoot camera but you don't want to get into more detailed settings, just set camera to AV mode. Aperture to 5.6 or 8 on an SLR. For Point and Shoot, use the smallest value. Set Exposure Compensation to -1 or -1.3. Set ISO to 100 or so and take photos. Based on how photos are coming out, you can change settings.
* Focus camera to Infinity and change the Focusing method from AutoFocus (AF) to Manual Focus(MF). If you don't have this feature, you camera may struggle to lock the focus every time you try to take a shot. In dark, it can become a real headache for camera to lock focus. One simple trick: change camera to landscape mode and take one photo. This will normally result in infinity focus. Then change the Focusing method to MF from AF.

I was camping at Dogwoods Campground near Lake Arrowhead in Big Bear area, California. We heard that they had fireworks planned so we went there. Unfortunately I didn't have a tripod so I tried to put the camera on a fence but that fence was not steady as there many excited kids leaning on it. Still I think I managed to get some good shots. Btw Lake Arrowhead had the best fireworks I have seen over last 15 years of my stay in the USA!
Here are some photos with my Olympus E-PM2.

* If you are an advanced user, see the tips from Olympus below:

Setting the scene for fireworks 
Summer is known for great fireworks displays. Olympus is known for great camera scene modes. Coincidence? No way. Your first step in taking great pictures of fireworks is to simply select the Fireworks Scene Mode. The camera will then slow the shutter speed value and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).
If your camera doesn?t have scene modes (i.e. the E-1, E-3 & E-5) or is able to support a high-level of manual control, set the camera to manual mode (M) and adjust the shutter speed and aperture. Setting the aperture to F8 and a shutter speed of 3 to 4 seconds should give good results. Set the ISO sensitivity to 100 or 80. And don't forget to change to MF (manual focus) and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).
Here's a rundown of common adjustments
made in the Fireworks Scene Mode:
  • Shutter speed is set to four seconds, which helps capture the streaming trails of the fireworks.
  • Sets the ISO to 100 and the f-stop to f11.
  • Sets the White Balance to 5300K
  • Sets the exposure compensation to -1.0 EV. This is a full 1-stop underexposure to keep the firework highlights from burning out.
  • Sets the color to Vivid, the Saturation to High and the Contrast to Hard, all of these changes help enhance color.
  • Sets the Sharpness to Soft, which uses minimal sharpening in anticipation of post-processing.