Photographing fireworks New Year’s Eve – Micro Four Thirds cameras are ideal choices

Written by Gary on December 31st, 2009

It’s New Year’s Eve, and in many cities that means fireworks at midnight, so here are a few tips:

Your best shots are likely to be in the first few minutes of the fireworks display BEFORE smoke ruins your photos – YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED BEFORE THEY START – or wait until next year!

Camera settings:

  • set white balance – many choose Daylight – if you shoot RAW then it does not matter so much as you can change it later.
  • manual exposure
  • ISO 100 – yep, you do not need to worry about noise at high ISO and thus a big camera is not necessarily going to help you!
  • shutter speed 2-8 secs depending on how much trailing you want – try 4 secs – if you have a dSLR and not a MFT camera, you should set it for mirror lock up to reduce blurring from the dSLR mirror.
  • aperture – try f/8 – your kit lens should do fine – the 10x zoom of the GH-1 with 14-140 lens will be perfect
  • consider using self timer 2secs to reduce camera movement from pressing the shutter
  • to take multiple exposures to image multiple bursts, set camera to BULB or 30secs, and use a black cardboard in front of lens to open it for 4secs for each fireworks burst – if you have an Olympus E-P1 or E-P2, you may wish to experiment with its multiple exposure feature instead.
  • focal length depends on your position, etc but usually 28-100mm range will be adequate – ie. most kit lenses
  • use a lens hood to minimise flare from nearby street lights hitting the front of your lens
  • consider turning off image stabiliser, it is unlikely to be helpful at 4 secs and will just eat batteries, and in some cases reduce image quality if you are using a tripod.
  • set manual focus and use live view to accurately focus on a distant building and leave it there – consider using a legacy manual focus lens so the lens focus position does not change if you turn it off.
  • turn flash off
  • remove lens filters to reduce flare

Tripod:

  • using a shutter speed of 4secs, you will need some sort of camera support
  • the larger the camera, the larger the tripod you need to keep it steady
  • thus MFT cameras can get away with a smaller tripod – less to carry
  • be aware that the sonic vibrations of fireworks may shake your tripod – some prefer a bean bag type support

Location, Location, Location!

  • you need to find a good position so that your composition will be nice, with hopefully some foreground interest such as water to reflect the fireworks, and no heads bobbing up at the bottom of your image.
  • make sure the wind is NOT blowing towards you otherwise smoke will ruin your images
  • if you are unfortunate enough to live in the Northern Hemisphere and midnight New Year’s Eve won’t be a balmy 30deg C like in Melbourne, you may need to avoid high locations if there is low level mist or cloud.

Micro Four Thirds are perfect because:

  • you only need ISO 100 – noise at high ISO is irrelevant – sensor image quality will not be an issue
  • there is no mirror so you don’t have to fuss with mirror lock up and black out for every shot
  • even a 3x zoom kit lens will be fine as you only need f/8 anyway
  • manual focus is fast because you don’t have to move a mirror out of the way
  • you can use any legacy lens on it – and your focus won’t then change when you turn the camera off and on.
  • timed shutter exposures up to 60 secs means you don’t have to resort to BULB for multiple exposures
  • Olympus E-P1/E-P2 offers a multiple exposure mode
  • nice and small – great for crowded situations, and you don’t need as big a tripod as with a heavy dSLR
  • EVF or LCD live view is much easier to focus at night than an optical viewfinder.
  • HD video if you want to use it – and on the GH-1 you can use full manual exposure with long shutter speeds of up to 0.5 sec – although 1/10th-1/40th sec at f/5.6 at ISO 800-1600 should be perfect for fireworks

The big question – will my Canon 1D Mark III stay at home??

See my wiki page for a continuously updated page on shooting fireworks with the latest technologies.

 

Comments Closed

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Traciatim says:

    What about setting your white balance to daylight?

  2. admin says:

    ahh, thanks for reminding me, have added that in.

  3. It’s extraordinary when a Pro gives all his experience for free. I long to test your tips during our next fireworks competition here, in Montréal, next summer. Thanks for sharing.

  4. admin says:

    thanks Jean-Pierre, but money isn’t everything, hope you have a great New Year’s and have fun experimenting with your fireworks.

  5. Damen Stephens says:

    I believe the Olympus EP-2 also has the ability to go full manual in its HD movie mode and you can therefore also use a long shutter speed with this as well as the Gh-1.