Sunday, September 4, 2016

How I made my fireworks photographs

I enjoyed photographing fireworks a lot because every shot is a surprise. If you have done enough research, practiced and planned ahead, maybe you can make better guesses and increase your chances to make a picture that you were hoping for. But there is NEVER a guarantee to that, which made the process so exciting! 

Today I am sharing some of my fireworks photographs. How I made them, where I made them and how I would have made them better in the future. They are not perfect shots but I still like them very much. They represent the different stages of my journey through learning about photography.  

So, here you go: 
Oct 2014 Seoul, Korea: Pentax K-r, 1/13 sec, f/5.6, 42.5mm, ISO1600
This is the yearly Seoul international fireworks festival that I saw in year 2014 - It is still happening every year between August to October today and you can find more information about the event here. This is a two-hour long fireworks performance. It was truly an eye-opening moment to witness such an impressive fireworks presentation, for such a long duration! This is definitely a very good practice field for any first-timer in firework photographing. I did not arrive early to find a good spot for the fireworks and it took my friend and I some time snaking through the human traffic in search for an okay spot with minimum obstacles.  

Tripod is KEY to shooting fireworks because you are going to set your shutter speed around 2 to 7 seconds. You are NOT going to hold your camera sturdily for that sort of duration so you NEED a tripod. The above picture was taken at shutter speed 1/13 sec. This is not a super fast shutter speed, but definitely not sufficient to achieve the kind of fireworks effect with long and smooth curvy light trails I was hoping for. Another obvious example of high shutter speed fireworks photograph is in the following. You will get to see how the lights were showing up spotty instead of curvy long trails, all because of shutter speed!

Dec 2014 - Bangkok. Thailand: Pentax K-r, 1/25 sec, f/4.5, 18mm, ISO1600
Low ISO. You also want to use a lower ISO like ISO100 or 200 (at max). I used an ISO1600 here and my pictures turned out grainy or what people called it "noisy". I was worried that my pictures would turn out underexposed if I used a low ISO but I forgot to leave room for the lights from the fireworks either. Note that!

And this picture above  was captured at the Thai King's 87th birthday in 2014 - somewhere close to Khao San Road in Bangkok. Fireworks lasted only for a few minutes and wasn't the main attraction for the entire birthday event. Thousands of people (wearing yellow) gathered on the street which made setting our cameras up extremely unsafe. We went without a tripod so I left with no choice but to resort to a high shutter speed which resulted in the kind of spotty fireworks effects you see in the picture above. 
July 2015 - Singapore NDP : Pentax K-3, 5 secs, f/10, 24mm, ISO100
This is a shot from the Singapore national day fireworks rehearsal outside the parliament house in 2015. Another yearly event for any photography lovers visiting the Merlion city. This fireworks performance normally lasts for a few weeks prior to the actual national day on Aug 9th each year to ensure perfection on the actual day. So you get to try out your shots from different locations during different rehearsals and get a taste of different backdrops for your fireworks pictures! Now that I am into framing...

Clearly I have done some good amount of research before making this shot and learnt all my lessons in the past - from getting to the spot early, bringing a tripod, setting shutter speed, using a good aperture to framing my photos properly...etc. And I was pretty happy with what I have got.

Narrow aperture. I like the effect of f/11 and f/13 on the pictures. Especially with my camera. Maybe it's just me. But share your thoughts of wide or narrow apertures to use for fireworks photographing. I have also upgraded my camera from a Pentax Kr to K3 since 2015 so the quality of my pictures have also improved a lot since. So it might not be an apple to apple comparison in terms of pictures quality.
July 2015 - Singapore NDP : Pentax K-3, 6 secs, f/13, 18mm, ISO100

This year, I went for the Singapore national day fireworks rehearsal again. I decided to walk an extra mile to make this new stadium dome my backdrop for this picture. I like how the lights showing the Singapore flag is projecting on the dome and fits into the picture nicely together with the light trails of the fireworks. I also took this picture in raw mode so that I could brighten the background a little bit to balance out the difference in brightness between the back and foreground afterwards.

Now you see, making spectacular fireworks photographs is not pure luck, I learnt it through hanging out with other photographer friends and through the world wide web. I am not making any profit out of photographing (YET), I am just an ordinary person constantly wanting to try something different and make better pictures. Now that I have basic ideas capturing the light trails properly, I am now focusing more on framing and composition of my future fireworks pictures.  Stay tuned! 

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