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How to photograph fireworks at Riverfire

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I, like many others before me, used to think that photographing fireworks must be rather complicated, until a few years ago, when I took my trusty old Canon 350D out and gave it a go. Turns out it wasn’t as complicated as I had assumed, and what’s more, it was fun!

Before you head to Riverfire, the bright conclusion to the Brisbane Festival, read up and practice these simple tips on how to photograph fireworks at this spectacular event on Brisbane’s calendar.

1. Steady as she goes

Without a tripod, your fireworks photos may be blurry and wavy. While this might be artistic, it is the strong lines of fireworks and sharp captures that will really make your images eye catching.

Use of a remote release minimises vibration, will ensure a sharper image and gives you the best control over the shutter speed or exposure time of the shot. If you don’t have a remote release, you can always resort to using the self-timer, but your control over timing your shots might be a bit hit and miss.

2. Location, location, location

Arrive early! Fireworks always draw a crowd and Riverfire is certainly no exception. While you can use a crowd to help frame your shot (more about that later), arriving early helps you scout a good spot, get your gear set up and gives you enough time to get a couple of great sunset shots.

Are you positioned upwind or downwind of the fireworks? If the smoke is likely to blow your way, aim to capture most of your shots early in the sequence to minimise the smoke haze.

Once you’ve found the perfect position, get your gear set up so you’re ready to go. Auto-focussing systems struggle in limited light and will have difficulty locking focus on fireworks, so it’s best to pre-focus your camera while it’s still light and then switch to manual focus. If it’s available, set the lens focus to infinity.

3. Frame your photos

Consider the aspect of your images – vertical is great to capture fireworks and their tails, but horizontal also works really well if you want to include part of the city skyline or the Story Bridge in your image. Try to get a variety of shots, including the location, or part of the crowd in the foreground, to ground your images.

Including the surrounding cityscape in your images can give them a stronger visual appeal. Remember: even if you are aiming for a close up of the fireworks themselves, you can always crop the image later.

4. Drive in manual not auto

Ideally, it’s best to shoot fireworks in bulb mode. Bulb mode gives you the best flexibility to time your shots. I generally start my exposure as the firework is about to fire and then finish the exposure once it has burst in the sky.

Start out with single burst fireworks and once you’ve got a shot that you’re happy with, try experimenting with multiple bursts. Remember though, fireworks are really bright – the longer you leave the shutter open, the more likely your photo is to be overexposed.

The first time I shot fireworks at Riverfire, a fellow photographer loaned me a piece of black card to hold over my lens between fireworks bursts.  It’s a great way to get multiple bursts without overexposing your image. I’ve also seen another photographer use a dark coloured hat to do the same thing.

If your camera doesn’t have a bulb setting, use manual and set your shutter speed – this is one of those times you ignore the needle in the middle principle of exposure.

5. It’s not all about the settings

Photography should be fun! Settings will vary depending on your camera, your lens and even your location, but as a starting point try bulb or manual mode using 100 ISO, an aperture of F8 and a shutter speed of between 1-3 seconds.

Review your image on screen – if the photo is too dark, leave the shutter open longer on your next shot. If it is too light, try stopping down the aperture to F11 and shoot again. Once you’re happy with the results, start getting a little more creative and try some of those multiple burst shots.

And be sure to turn off your flash. Using flash in fireworks photos will generally result in a brightly lit foreground and wash out the impact of the fireworks in your images.

Have you got any hot tips you think I’ve missed? Do you want to share your secret spot to capture Riverfire?

EXTRA HOT TIP: Once you have perfectly captured the fireworks at Riverfire, share your photos with us so we can have a looksee! Use these hashtags on Instagram: #brisfest #brisbaneanyday #thisisqueensland.