Here in the UK November 5th marks the day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, arguably the last time anyone seriously tried to change something in British politics. Naturally we celebrate this 400-year-old act of political and religious terrorism with a night of parties, bonfires upon which the unfortunate Mr Fawkes is traditionally burned in effigy, and of course copious quantities of fireworks. With just over a week to go until the big night I thought this might be a good time to share a few tips on firework photography.
Taking good photographs of fireworks is quite a challenge. They are small, distant and very bright objects moving fast against a dark background, which makes them a nightmare for both focusing and exposure. Very few cameras have autofocus systems fast enough to capture and track a firework rocket against the night sky, and the sudden bright flash of the explosion will confound most automatic exposure meters. Some digital cameras have a fireworks scene mode option, but even this doesn't guarantee good results. However with some patience and preparation it is actually relatively easy to take consistently good photos of fireworks, as long as you know what you're doing.
For the best results you should use a camera with manual exposure, and a minimum shutter speed of at least a few seconds. If you don't have this, then the aforementioned fireworks scene mode found on many compact cameras will work as well. You will also need a tripod no matter what type of camera you are using. Photographing fireworks involves using long exposures, far too long for hand-held shooting. A cable release or remote control is also useful to completely eliminate camera shake. Another handy item of equipment is a small red-filtered light so you can see to adjust your camera settings without ruining your night vision, or that of those around you. You don't need anything special; a rear lamp from a bicycle is ideal.