Friday, July 6, 2012

How Do I Photograph Fireworks Without an Expensive dSLR?

It is a common myth that a dSLR is required to photograph fireworks. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

On Wednesday, I went out to see fireworks but didn't feel like carrying my expensive Nikon D700 with tripod around amongst a huge crowd of total strangers.  End result: I went out to see fireworks with my pocket cam, an Olympus Stylus 550WP (review here) instead. Still, despite the fact that the Stylus can only go 1/2 second at minimum shutter speed, has no manual focus, and I had no tripod, I was still determined to try and shoott he fireworks.

To my surprise, things went very, very well (all things considered, of course!).

, the photos I took are, compared to properly shot firework photos, not overly spectacular. On the other hand, I was quite impressed. For only exposing for 1/2 second, the bursts were surprisingly full as recorded. To get optimal aesthetics, snap your picture just as the burst starts to go off. Depending on your minimum shutter speed, you may have to wait a little into the burst itself (like I had to do with my 1/2 second-capable camera). Second, the AF accuracy was not bad for focusing on the fly and in next to no light, though I suspect that the lights out in the field helped AF accuracy a lot. As for having no tripod, I used my knee instead, which was still good enough to negate using the useless (for fireworks) self timer.

So here's some advice for anyone wanting to take a cheap P&S camera to a fireworks show. First, use a tripod if you have one. If not, brace against something, like your car's roof or yourself. Second, for focus, try and focus on something like another car, pole, or even distant trees. Depending on the brightness of your location and your camera, this may work after all. However, don't expect 100% AF accuracy but remain realistic! Third, set the ISO high as in 800 (yes, noisy pictures, but you can downsize them later) to gather as much light as possible in the short exposure time your camera is capable of doing. Try and set ISO so that the camera is at its minimum shutter speed, too.

One last thing, if you can 
shoot RAW to maximize your editing capability if you like to play around with your pictures.

So, cheap pocket camera firework photography is possible even though the circumstances seem to go against all photographic common sense. The only reason I know is that I was crazy enough to try it. So, if it worked for me, it may work for you, too.

Oh, yes, here's a sampling of what I got . . .

Not too bad for a $100 camera, are they?

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