BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 

How to Shoot Fireworks?

I have a Nikon D300 - a great camera but my amateur skills are not great. I want to take pictures of some fireworks for the 4th of July. How would I do so? Slow shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc.? I won't be working with a tripod, since I will be on a boat. Thanks.

To love this question, log in above
6/29/2008 11:40:25 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
If you have no choice but to hand hold, try ISO 3200 w/noise reduction on. No slower than 1/60th wide open. The image (IF) it comes out, will take a few moments to process due to noise reduction on. This is normal.

To love this comment, log in above
6/30/2008 12:29:08 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Select matrix metering and aperture-priority on your D300 and shoot wide open at an ISO high enough to allow for whatever comfortable handholding speed that yields the results you seek.
This "comfortable speed" will vary by each individual. There are techniques for handholding that can allow for much lower than recommended shutter speeds ... such as leaning against something solid or sitting on the ground and propping your elbows on your knees.
Your shutter speed and lens settings will of course vary, dependent upon your distance from "ground zero" (i.e., how much black sky is included within the same frame as the bursts) and also what lens focal length you plan to use. Typical displays are long enough to allow for adjustments to be made at the scene. You can view the results as you go and adjust as necessary.
You definitely want to avoid long exposures at a high ISO (which you cannot do anyway without firm support), if you want to retain the color in the bursts.
My tests with a wide-angle lens a few hundred yards from ground zero have suggested that at 100 ISO, with a mid-range aperture setting of f-8, the colors will blow out and turn yellow or white on exposures longer than four seconds.
If my math is correct, you should be able to shoot at ISO 1600 at 1/4 second (with the same lens at that aperture setting at the same distance) and get similar results.
If you have a lens that opens to f-4, you can get to 1/15 second at ISO 1600 and retain the color of the bursts without overexposing.
Some may feel that their "comfort zone" for hand-holding falls within that range (or even slower) but personally, I'd opt for the tripod and select a much lower ISO and shoot 1 to 3 second exposures to get better quality.

To love this comment, log in above
6/30/2008 4:02:31 PM

David E. Bunkofske
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/2/2007
  Andray, I have shot a lot of fireworks and find that you do not have to have a long shutter speed. Fireworks are very bright. I can hand hold at ISO 1600 F5.6 easy with 125 sec. On the final Round when they send up many at the same time ISO 100 at 125 sec F 5.6 will work. Have a GREAT 4th of July

To love this comment, log in above
7/1/2008 6:53:35 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.