• Shooting Fireworks

    Recording fireworks displays can look spectacular if you get it right or it can turn into a washed out mess if you get it wrong. It's the one time when you have to switch to manual control on the camera and take charge yourself. The first thing you'll have to do is turn on manual focus as the auto focus won't be able to cope with the lowlight levels and having nothing 'solid' to lock onto.

    The main problem though is exposure, if you are pointing the camera at a black sky you don't want the auto exposure boosting the gain or opening the iris fully and turning it into a muddy grey mess. Then the opposite happens when the fireworks explode, they are very bright and so the auto exposure system will close down the iris and let in less light, darkening the scene. But, and there's always a but...

    The time it takes the camera to go from grey muddy sky with too much light to nicely exposed firework is too long and half of the display will be burned out or overexposed. So switch off the auto exposure, program modes etc and go over to manual, decrease the exposure by either reducing the size of the iris or lowering the gain. Don't close the iris completely, you still want to see the fireworks and have a dark grey to black sky as your background.

    Other techniques you can try are both higher and lower shutter speeds. You may have to experiment with the shutter speeds to find the correct one that gives you the exposure level you need to obtain the results described earlier. One of the side effects of using a high speed shutter is that your fireworks will have a strobing effect on them, which will give your footage a surreal jerky movement and this will become more noticeable as you increase the speed.

    Also try using a low shutter speed if your camera has any, for streaking effects; just remember to hold the camera very steady like a stills camera. Last but no least is the White Balance. Do you keep it on auto, set it to indoor or outdoor? Well, depending on what you’re recording you may have to use a combination of both indoor and outdoor.

    For example, the outdoor setting will inject more yellow/orange colour into a scene which will bring out red, orange and yellow coloured displays better than the indoor setting. So use the outdoor setting for red fireworks, yellow fireworks, orange fireworks and the yellow glow off any bonfires. On the otherhand, selecting the indoor setting adds more blue to a scene so blue and white fireworks such as a fountain display can benefit from this setting.

    If you are going to an organised fireworks display either at Halloween or Guy Fawkes there will probably be designated areas for you to stand at. If this is the case bringing along a tripod may not be a good idea but if you can lay your hands on a monopod it would certainly help steady some of your shots and others are less likely to trip over it.

    It is also useful to have if there are no natural supports available such as walls, fences, gates, trees etc but if there are then make use of them. Watch the first few fireworks explode in the sky to get an idea of where to point the camera rather than just switching on and hoping for the best. If there are displays on the ground use some foreground object for interest such as people watching who are in silhouette and as soon as the display goes off you can see the expressions on their faces.

    Also look for a montage sequence by shooting one firework exploding in one part of the sky for a few seconds, then quickly turn the camera round and shoot another firework exploding in another part of the sky; do this five or six times and edit it into shorter scenes on your computer. Capturing the reactions with the ooohs and aaahs of people watching is also important. Rather than standing behind everyone you need to get on the opposite side of them in what is known as a Reverse Angle shot.

    These can be recorded as single shot close ups or a two medium shot or a group shot, you just need to reframe wider each time to get more people into the frame. If rockets are being used then stand far enough back so you can easily tilt the camera upwards as the rocket ascends and then explodes in the sky. Going back to manual focusing mentioned at the start, set it to infinity and fill the frame with large amounts of activity. Also try some firework explosions that are out of focus where all you see are streaks of light.