How to take the best photos of fireworks from up high?
December 30, 2011 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I will be seeing in the New Year at the top of a 100 meter tall building in Buenos Aires. I have a Canon SX30 IS, a fairly high-end point and click which has plenty of manual settings. I want to make the most of the viewpoint to take photos of the fireworks that will be going off around the city - what should I know?

I'd like to be able to see the city and the fireworks above it. The camera has a fireworks setting but I'm not sure how this will work for fireworks in the distance rather than right in front of me. I can control the shutter and it allows for up to 15 seconds which could work well if I can place it on a wall or ledge - I have no tripod.

Otherwise what should I know - do I need high ISO or low? I can set exposure from -2 to +2, is higher better? Obviously timing is going to be important but any tips you can offer to improve my chances will be gratefully received.
posted by jontyjago to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)

I believe the preset fireworks mode you have will just be a long exposure, which should do the trick fine. If you want to get under the hood more, put it in manual mode, low ISO, long exposure (several seconds). Play around with aperture and exposure time before the fireworks start to find a setting that doesn't blow out the city lights, then tweak your settings after the first couple of fireworks to get them exposed properly.

You should look into a tripod, too. Any exposure long enough to get good fireworks trails will be too long to hold it steady by hand. You might be able to get away with a ledge and a folded sweater to set it on, but (I'm guessing) you don't know exactly what's going to be up there until you get there, and then it's too late.

You can pick up a cheap tripod for $20-30, and it'll pack down small enough that you can fit it in a backpack or messenger bag. It won't be rock solid, but if you're careful not to bump it you can still get good results.

I'll warn you, though - in my experience, you can either photograph an event or take part in it, but not both at the same time. If you set this all up and plan it out and work carefully, you'll end up with a bunch of great photos of the event - but no good memories of it. If it were me, I'd just watch it and appreciate it, and buy someone else's photo later on if I wanted something to hang on the wall.
posted by echo target at 10:33 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

A tripod s essential. Try to scope out direction the fireworks will light and any geographic features that you might include for context or reflections of buildings or off the water.

What worked for me with a film camera was to put a black cloth over the lens and lock the shutter open. Then pull off the cloth for a couple seconds. Makes it easy to do multiple exposures. Not sure that works in digital.

If you want good photos plan on as many shots as possible. Long exposures will get some of the arc of the moving lights.
posted by sammyo at 10:48 AM on December 30, 2011

Here are some photos I took of fireworks with the same camera this past July 4. I used a long exposure (4 seconds), ISO 80, manual exposure set to infinity, and the largest aperture available with whatever zoom length you want.

And a tripod. If you definitely can't use one and are trying to stabilize against a wall or something, I'd probably lower the exposure time significantly.
posted by brentajones at 10:55 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can't use a tripod then find a ledge. If you can't find a ledge hold it up against a wall. If you don't have a wall or a ledge then it's probably not worth it. A bag of beans or rice work as a good makeshift tripod.

If you can set a shutter delay, do it. Most cameras let you set a 2 second delay between pressing the shutter and taking the photo. This will remove most camera movement from your finger pressing the shutter, and that can make a big difference when you're taking long exposures without a tripod.

But most of all, enjoy the fireworks. If you're spending the whole time futzing with your camera you'll miss the fireworks and not have any photos of it either.
posted by Ookseer at 10:59 PM on December 30, 2011

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