Shooting Fireworks

Hanabi close-up composite, August 5, 2006

(Above posted with a debt to Antipixel, whose composite from 4 years ago gave me the idea).

We make it an annual occurrence to go to the Toda – Itabashi Fireworks Festival which is held on the Arakawa River that forms the border between Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, where we live. (We’ve only missed one, the year Kaika was born.) The last two years, thanks to our friends on the Tokyo side of the river who do the hard work of staking out a good viewing spot a week in advance, we’ve viewed it from Itabashi. (As ostensibly this fireworks festival is a “tournament” I suppose that means we’ve actually been turning our backs on our home side (Toda) these last couple of years.)

Anyway, this year I decided I would actually take photos of the fireworks, with the digital SLR and a battery of lenses in tow, along with the indispensible tripod. I even googled a few websites to figure out how it’s done, having never seriously attempted to shoot fireworks before. Not sure this time can really qualify as “serious” though, given the cans of beer and snacks that were being consumed, not to mention kids who just wouldn’t sit still (go figure!). In fact, I was so serious about the enterprise that I didn’t even noticed I had knocked the lens out of focus at one point and took about a hundred worthless photos that way.

Nevertheless, there was something nice and unhurried about the process of pressing the shutter (via a cable release) and then letting go a couple of seconds later (or one second later, acheter kamagra, or perhaps three — I wasn’t counting really), trying to capture the bursts of the various fireworks. I gave up fiddling with lenses after a while, settling on the 24mm (40mm on the digital), and barely paid attention to the LCD display except to check positioning. The fireworks in Japan go on so long (this particular festival lasted just over 90 minutes) that one is bound to capture something nice to look at over the course of a given night.

Should you find yourself at a fireworks festival this summer and would like to take some photos, here’s a recap of the advice I gleaned from various sites and my actual experience on the night:

    *Bring a tripod. There’s no way around this one, really. Keep the lens focused at infinity. (Put the lens in M-manual mode, but periodically check it to make sure you didn’t accidently knock it off its infinity setting, like ahem yours truly.)
    *Shoot at 100 ASA, on “bulb” setting, with your aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/16. (Looking at my exif data, it seems I was on f/13 most of the night.)
    *Using your cable release (another necessary item), begin your shot at the moment the given firework starts to burst, and keep it open anywhere between 1 and 3 seconds. Don’t sweat it too much. (Surprisingly the Canon Digital Rebel XT exif data notes the shutter speed on “bulb”-setting shots, but only rounded off to the second, eg. “1 sec”. At any rate, it seems most of mine were taken around the 2 second mark. On the other hand, a few that were shot at 5 seconds look great too.)
    *Use your “levels” adjustment in your photo-editing software to darken the shadows (making the dark night background even darker and making the digital noise — like grain in film — less noticeable), and lighten the highlights (making the actual burst pop out a bit more). Use “trial and error” here, and don’t overdo it.

Click the above composite to see the photos. Also, I turned the composite horizontally and made a desktop wallpaper out of it should you be so inclined:

Hanabi Wallpaper 1024 x 768 (.jpg, 272K)
Hanabi Wallpaper 1280 x 1024 (.jpg, 415K)

One Reply to “Shooting Fireworks”

  1. > there was something nice and unhurried about the process
    > of pressing the shutter (via a cable release) and then letting
    > go a couple of seconds later…

    You should give large format a try. I can recommend some cameras and lenses, if you like 🙂

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