Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Since I was in high school I’ve enjoyed shooting fireworks displays/celebrations. Just about every year I try to get out and shoot different fireworks displays. I always like to look for the unique versions. In my opinion, the big brand fireworks shows with big city skylines all look the same. Last year I found this show and shot if from down on the bridge.

This year I chose to climb this hill to gain a perspective that would include the bridge I shot from the year before. Wow, what an angle! You have the time exposed car lights stream through the frame, along with the boats on the water cruising and anchored watching the show. Of course the main thing is the fireworks display going of in the middle of all this. Off in the distance you can see the show for the city of Austin, Texas. This show is on Lake Austin sponsored by Austin Country Club.

Here’s how I shot this scene. It all starts with the angle. When shooting events where you get just once chance to get the shot, I always scout my angles out ahead of time. The day of the shoot, I arrive early to make sure I secure my preferred angle before anyone else does. In this case I was set up ready to shoot three hours before the show. I had my assistant hold the position while I went to this great Mexican food dive to grab some spicy food to go along with the show I was about to shoot. I still shoot with a Nikon D2x for one reason…four kids in college! Attached to my D2x was a Nikon 17-35mm 2.8 zoom. My camera was attached to a Gitzo tripod with the graphite legs and a Gitzo ball head. Using Nikon’s cable release I would shoot my exposures ranging from 30 seconds down to 5 seconds at F-8 up to F-16 always at ISO 100. The actual setting depends on the frequency of the fireworks burst along with the overall scene. One thing you need to watch for is burst frequency. At the start of the show, the bursts start out slow. At times they will increase in frequency of burst and then slow again. Always at the end there is the grand finale which if you’re not careful, you will overexpose your shots.

I like to use the aperture to control the over all scene with and I use the shutter speed to control the look of the fireworks with…shot burst and long trailing burst. My favorite exposure for fireworks is ISO 100, 15 seconds at F8 plus 2/3. Usually the trailing of the fireworks is just the way I like it, The 15 seconds allows for three burst and the illumination of the three burst is just right for just under F11. At least it has worked for this scene for the last two years.

One last thing to note, In Post you can curb the contrast levels by using a little Shadow/Contrast control in Photoshop. It’s also fun to play with the layering capabilities Bibble offers, which I prefer over both Aperture and Lightroom hands down!

I’ll be teaching a fireworks workshop on New Years Eve in Austin, Texas. For more info you can check it out at

Don't forget to checkout my workshops at we can use your mom on a workshop shoot.