With 2018 coming to an end, and fireworks displays about to happen all around the world, I thought I would share some tips and tricks on how to shoot at night to help you take the best fireworks photos wherever you may be! Of course these techniques not only apply to just fireworks photography but all types of night/dark photography all year round ;).
1. USE A TRIPOD
The best way to get clean photos at night is to use a tripod. The reason for this is because there is less light available at night and by using a tripod and keeping your camera as still as possible, you will be able to capture the light by extending your shutter speed without needing to compromise your ISO (therefore cleaner/crisper photos!). Any tripod will work but I think that finding the right balance between sturdy and lightweight for your own needs is best as you don't want to be lugging around a really heavy tripod if you don't need to. At the moment I am using the Manfrotto BeFree Tripod as it is sturdy enough for me and still lightweight that I can take around every day. Having a 'ball-head' on a tripod is also good because you can adjust your frame much quicker than having a tripod without one. If you don't own a tripod, or you are in a crowded place and cannot use a tripod, get creative and use different objects to lean your camera on.
2. USE A REMOTE TRIGGER OR THE 2-SECOND TIMER
Another method to keep your camera as still as possible (on top of using a tripod) is to use a remote trigger or the 2 second timer setting on your camera. Doing this will make sure that there is no camera shake and there's less chance for your photos to come out blurry. I currently don't own a remote trigger for my camera (Sony a7R2) so I usually use the 2 second timer, which is a little bit trickier as you need to get the timing right to achieve the results you want, but if you practice and get the hang of it you will get better with the timing. However, if I am shooting on my phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 9), I can use either the button on the S-Pen or the lower volume button on the given headphones as a remote trigger. Using a remote trigger is much easier in terms of timing but it also means you need to carry another piece of gear with you.
3. UNDERSTANDING YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS
This goes without saying, the more you know how to use your camera the more comfortable you will be when you are actually out there taking photos. Understand what ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture means and how to adjust them on your own specific cameras. For night photography, the aim is to shoot as low an ISO (your camera sensor's sensitivity to light) as possible to achieve cleaner images, then you want to adjust your shutter speed (time the shutter is open) and aperture (f-stop - size of the shutter opening) accordingly.
If you want to achieve a longer light trail then play around with your shutter speeds until you achieve the right look you want. Sometimes I try to get a car, ferry, or train tail to start and end within the frame so I need to experiment with the shutter speed to get the right result (for example, this shot below was a 30s exposure and I got super lucky to get the trail ending within the frame). You can also play around with the aperture too, if you want to achieve a starburst effect, then a smaller aperture (a higher f-number like f13 or above) will help you achieve this, such as the shot below.
4. USE THE LIGHTS FROM THE SCENE
As there is less light at night, you really have to utilise the light that is given to you by the scenes/locations. If you're in an urban environment, look for neon signs or street lights or car/bus/train trails to light up your subjects. If you're in nature, then you could possibly incorporate the stars or the moon into your night photography. Get creative with it! In the shot below, I have used the neon sign to light up my subject as well as using a mobile phone in the foreground to add a reflection and depth to the image.
5. CREATE YOUR OWN LIGHT SOURCE
If there isn't enough light in the environment or if you just want to give your photos more interest, then you can also add your own light sources too. Some things I use to do this are phone torches, small LED lights and light-sticks, or even car lights if you really need a lot more light! For the shot below I have used a Yongnuo YN360 LED light-stick to not only light up the subject but also the environment as well.
6. GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR LONG EXPOSURES
There are a number of ways you can get even more creative with your long exposure photography, and here are 2 techniques (1 in camera, and 1 in post) that can help you achieve this! The first technique is to zoom in and/or out while you shoot a long exposure. This will give you a cool effect and give you leading lines that you didn't even know existed! Experiment with the shutter speed and how quickly (or slowly) you spin the zoom ring for different effects. Note: You can only do this technique if you have a zoom lens that you zoom in and out manually using your hands.
The second tip is to stack your long exposures to achieve a more complete photo. This is easiest when you have shot a bunch of images using a tripod and all the frames are aligned. For example, for the shot below, all the boat trails are from multiple images which has been stacked into 1 final image. To do this, I use Adobe Photoshop and place all the images into 1 file (on separate layers) and use the 'Lighten' blending mode. This will only add the different light trails to the final outcome.
I hope you have found this useful for when you go out and take photos at night next time! Hopefully you all have a great New Year's Eve celebration and go out there and shoot some bangers! Happy New Year!
Ps. Check out @globalnightsquad on Instagram for night photography inspirations!
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