Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shooting new year's fireworks in frigid climates

Fireworks in PhiladelphiaIn Frostbite Falls they love their cold winters. Rocky and Bullwinkle never miss their cold weather new year's fireworks shows, but they recognize that there are special problems taking fireworks photos when it's below freezing.

For new year's fireworks in frigid climates you have to combine good practices for cold weather photography, with those for night photography, and the special things necessary to capture fireworks, to be successful. Don't be intimidated if you don't have a DSLR. I've seen many wonderful firework's photos taken with quality digital point and shoot cameras.
  • Battery Power — Having enough battery power is essential for electronic cameras in frigid weather. Cold temperatures sap battery energy even when the camera is turned off. I carry spare batteries in my parka’s inside pockets, close to my body to keep them warm. The warmer the battery, the better it will perform. When shooting for a long time, I rotate my batteries to stay out shooting longer.
  • Insulate your Camera — I use a “Cozy Camera Bag” to keep my DSLR warm when temperatures drop below 20ºF (-7ºC). The “Cozy Camera Bag” provides insulation for your DSLR, a sleeve for your right hand (The one that's on the shutter release button), or your remote shutter release to hang through, and even has internal pockets for “hand warmer packets” to keep your camera warm in extremely frigid conditions.
  • While waiting for the show to start — Keep your camera as warm and dry as possible. In freezing weather, I keep my camera under my parka, until the last minute.
  • Damaging Weather — Falling snow may seem benign compared to rain, but snow can cause just as much damage. In rain, sleet or snow, I keep my DSLR and lens protected with a rain cover which allows me to safely shoot in snow squalls, or downpours.
  • Bringing your Camera Inside — When you return to the warmth of your hotel or home, after shooting the new year's fireworks, condensation can be a major problem. It occurs due to the moisture from the hotel’s or your home's warm, more humid inside air. Water vapor from the air will condense on the camera’s cold surfaces. Lenses can become completely covered with moisture, as well as the mechanical and electronic components inside your camera, which can cause electrical and mechanical havoc. To avoid the problem, I wrap my cold camera in a plastic bag I've had with me outside, before bringing it inside. The moisture settles on the outside of the bag rather than on the camera’s exterior and inside surfaces.
  • Scout for a great location — Before the show, once you know from where the fireworks will be launched, scout the location to find an unobstructed view. Consider topography, lenses, zoom capability, and how high the fireworks will go in the air. Try to find a location sheltered from the wind. Wind significantly exacerbates the effects of cold weather. Stay away from streetlamps and such, to avoid light flare, and look out for tree branches and other objects which might sneak into the photos.
  • Always use a tripod — Fireworks photography requires long exposures to capture the light trails and full bursts together in a photo. Long exposure times require camera support to ensure sharp exposures, regardless of what camera you’re using, so use a tripod appropriate for your equipment.
  • Use a remote shutter release — If you can, use a remote shutter release to increase your camera’s stability. That way you won’t have to touch your camera, shaking it, to snap the photos.
  • Bring a flashlight — You’re going to be shooting in the dark. A small flashlight will enable you to see your camera’s controls and settings.
  • Bring extra memory cards — I try to take photos of almost every fireworks burst. So my excitement at the beginning of the show doesn’t fill all my memory cards before the grand finale, I have plenty of them with me.
  • Use manual focus — You can’t actually focus your camera on the fireworks, presumably several hundred yards/meters away, so if you can, use manual focus and set your lens for infinity. You can set your Point and Shoot to landscape mode, if it has one, as a “work around.” It's essentially the same as setting a DSLR to infinity.
  • Use the Highest Quality for your photo — I shoot fireworks exclusively in RAW format. If you take your photos in JPG, chose the best quality and the largest size (least compression). This is especially important for fireworks photographs because JPG compression artifacts are often created when the photograph has a high range of luminance and color contrast, like the bright colored light of fireworks bursting against a black sky.
  • Reduce noise in your photos — Long exposures and high ISO settings, can cause noise in your digital photographs. Noise (colored pixel artifacts) will mostly be visible in the very dark areas of your fireworks photos. Therefore choose low ISO for your camera (50–200).
  • It’s night, it’s dark, so you might think you need very long exposures — To the contrary, fireworks are very bright lights, which cause many to overexpose their images. Using manual mode, I expose my photos from 1 to 4 seconds. Shorter exposures could miss the full fireworks' burst. Longer exposures can produce washed-out images. Try to anticipate the beginning of the burst and open the shutter, then close it immediately after it reaches its peak. Anticipating the explosion is difficult, but not impossible. If your Point and Shoot camera doesn’t have a manual setting, choose a fixed setting, such as 2 seconds. Since the shutter speed must be long enough to record the burst, control the exposure by choosing the correct aperture.
  • The aperture you use will be based on the ISO setting — A good starting point would be ISO 100 – f/8 to f/16 or ISO 200 f/11 to f/22. Check your photos as you go along and adjust the aperture as necessary.
  • Frame your photo well — Generally a vertical format is better as the trail of a skyrocket is usually upward and not wide. For final framing, consider the crowd, your position, and how the fireworks are deployed.
  • For my DSLR I use a normal to wide angle lens — My position relative to the fireworks bursts will determine the exact focal length I use. I frame my image so I have a good sized foreground and "head-room" above the topmost fireworks trails.
  • Generally turn off your flash — For photographing the fireworks themselves your flash is useless, but it can be useful if you’re trying to light something in the foreground to give your photo context and extra interest.
  • Consider adding foreground subjects to your fireworks photos — Consider including a statue in the foreground, or silhouettes of the crowd, a tree or bridge or building. Note how I used the river in my photos. Watch your horizons to keep them straight, especially if you have foreground subjects in your photos.


Terry from NYC said...

I was hoping you would update your fireworks tips. You didn't disappoint.

Ellen in Dallas said...

Great list of suggestions. I remember your suggestion about taking a flashlight from prior suggestions. I can't tell you how often it's come in handy for me.

Indra Dian S said...

nice tips
the tips can be used for new year eve

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