Want to make your fireworks shots look like flowers or abstract paintings? You can do this in-camera without any special effects processing afterwards. It’s really fun to try and the possibilities are endless. Here’s how my friend and I did it at the last July 4 fireworks at Ann Morrison Park.
First we set up our cameras for manual exposure (M) and manual focus (autofocus OFF). We set ISO to a low number : 100 for Canon and 200 for Nikon. We selected f/8 for aperture and 2 seconds for shutter speed. Later we tweaked shutter speed and aperture a bit – another second or two of exposure for longer fireworks streaks, for example. We picked mid-length zoom lenses in the 24 mm to 120 mm range to capture the fireworks.
Most lenses have an infinity mark on the barrel, and it’s possible to rotate the lens barrel past infinity a little. That’s too far, so before it got too dark we played with focus throw, learning to turn the focus ring the right amount by feel.
We locked our cameras onto sturdy tripods and aimed the cameras at the sky. We were ready for the show.
With the first burst, we started having fun turning the focus ring in each direction. Turning the focus ring from sharp focus to out-of-focus during the 2-second exposure caused the fireworks to “bloom” as they traveled through space. Starting out-of-focus and dialing back into sharp focus during the exposure resulted in the “flower petal” look. No two images were alike!
Don’t expect perfect results with every shot. In fact, our success rate was pretty low, but we got some amazing results anyway. Try this technique at the next fireworks show.