Q: I have a new digital camera that I'm hoping will do a better job of capturing fireworks this year. It's not a fancy DSLR or anything so any tips for getting the shots?
A: Most people that own digital cameras simply put it into the automatic mode, leave it there and hope for the best. When it comes to fireworks, you're probably not going to get the shot you envision in your head with this approach.
The first critical accessory that you must have is a tripod; without it, you can pretty much count on images that are going to be blurry. If you don't have a tripod, find a wall, tree or some other solid device that will allow you to hold the camera absolutely still.
The second thing you want to make sure you do is turn off the flash; that's the easiest way to ruin every shot because the flash will cause anything near you to become the subject of the shot.
When your camera is the fully automatic mode, it will try to find something in the frame to focus on, which isn't what you want. You need to change the scene setting (usually it's a wheel on the top of the camera) to something that tells the camera to set the focus at infinity.
If it's a newer camera, it may actually have a fireworks icon; if not look for a night or landscape mode. All of these modes will set the camera focus to infinity and also extend the exposure length to properly capture fireworks.
Make sure you've set the picture quality to the highest possible resolution setting so it doesn't compress the image and create patchy artifacts in the night sky.
The best way to be prepared for the big show is to experiment with your camera well before the night of the forth.
If you really want to get the best shots, tinker with the manual settings. You want a low ISO setting (50-100) with aperture settings in the f/8 to f/16 range and shutter speeds in the 1 to 3 second range. You really need to experiment with your specific camera to get the right combo.
You can get some practice in by having someone stand at least 10 feet away from you in the dark and swing a flashlight around or a couple of sparklers.
Experiment with the various preset scenes and with the manual settings to see if you get a comfort level with either.
On the big night, it's important to find a good spot for taking the shots. Trying to shoot fireworks from right under the explosions is very difficult. It's best to be up higher so the fireworks are in front of you, especially if you can include a body of water or other landmarks in the frame.
Make sure there are no street lights or other nearby light sources that are shining into the camera's lens and don't get too carried away with the zoom (make sure that the digital zoom has been turned off!)
When you hear the shells launching, get ready to hit the button (your timing will get better through the night). You have to be very careful when you release the shutter button so you don't shake the camera. If your camera has an option for a remote release cable, use it.
You'll want to make sure you have an empty camera card so you can take lots of experimental pictures in the early stages of the fireworks show. Make whatever adjustments you need to make early on (take a small flashlight to help you see the camera settings in the dark) so you are locked and loaded for the finale!
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