Recently, I was asked to shoot a facility during its inauguration. The client wanted to capture the fireworks with the factory in the foreground. It was not something fancy but my apprehension is I haven’t taken fireworks for half a decade already. Like many of the newbie photographers, shooting fireworks was in my list when I was starting up back then.
Shooting fireworks is definitely a long exposure approach. It’s quite tricky in a sense that you cannot increase the light intensity of the fireworks through your shutter speed but only through your aperture and ISO. Just like strobes, in fireworks there’s a span of time where the light illuminates. So even if you expose it longer, light will expire and will no longer expose further.
To control the intensity of the light when shooting fireworks, only aperture and ISO can control the amount of light. However, to control the light streak, shutter speed matters. You don’t want to open the curtain for so long, otherwise you’ll end up recording all the lights on top of each other. That poses more problems because you want to get a variety of exploding colors.
Commonly, an aperture of about f/16 and ISO200 will give you an acceptable brightness of the fireworks. You can play between 10-20 seconds in your shutter speed while finding the right timing of the explosions. The trick is to take multiple shots and blend those frames that you think would fill in the open spaces.
To make this work, Photoshop is required. You can layer selected photos and use masking to hide or reveal parts of the image. It would take luck and perfect timing to get a good fireworks composition in one shot. What makes this project a bit difficult is I wanted to get a good exposure and details of the foreground, which happens to be the factory.
The solution is to take a photo of the factory way before the fireworks display. A good time to take the photo is right after sunset when the sky turns blue and enough ambient light to get good details of the building. Take multiple shots with different exposure settings so you’ll have options to choose from.
After selecting the best photos from the fireworks and the building, layer the photos in Photoshop and blend the fireworks to the dark blue sky of the building photo using Lighten blending mode in the fireworks layer. The dark sky from the fireworks layer will be omitted and magically the fireworks will blend with your dark blue sky.
Keep on shooting, everyone! www.albertpedrosa.com
Text and photos by Albert Pedrosa