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I've taken my digital camera to Rosy's a few times, now, and am starting to consistently get some pretty good pictures.


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2006 Fireworks 2006 Fireworks

I have an Olympus 2020Z digital camera.  It has a lot of things I like about it.  Adjusting the shutter speed and apeture was fairly easy to do.  And I was able to lock it at infinite focus.

But it has one major problem.  Even with the focus locked there was a 1/4 second hesitation from when I pressed the button to when the camera actually took the picture.   That makes it completely unacceptable for action photos.

It's not too bad for photographing fireworks.  I can anticipate the bursts fairly accurately.  Also, just the nature of how fireworks are captured means that there's a pretty wide latitude in what will produce a pleasing image.  There isn't really a "perfect moment."

Checklist for fireworks photography:
Extra batteries
You'll have the screen on the entire time, so there's a real possibility of running down your batteries if they start out already partly used.
Extra memory
At my last couple of fireworks displays I've captured around 200 images.
With a quick-release boot.  For most of the shots you'll want a solid platform.   But some of my best pictures have come from intentionally moving the camera during the exposure
Don't get too close to the show
If you get right up under the fireworks then they'll be too big to capture in the frame.   Also, since they don't always go off in exactly the same place then you're more likely to chop off part of many shots.
Look up ahead of time how to work the manual controls
You're going to want to make adjustments during the display, so make sure you remind yourself how to do that.  Again, you don't need precision, but different settings will give you a variety of effects.
Set everything to manual
Apeture, shutter speed and focus.  The focus is usually a separate setting than the apeture and shutter setting.
Set ISO-equivalent rating to fast
Actually, I haven't played with this during the display.  I always set it to ISO 400 on my camera.  A slower ISO will necessitate longer exposures, which may or may not look as good.  Update:  I just read something that leads me to believe that cranking down the ISO will significantly reduce the noise during long exposures.  I haven't tested it, yet.
Set the resolution
My camera defaults to a mediumish resolution.  Make sure you set it to what you want.  But, pay attention to write times.  My camera was just about able to keep up with writing images to the card during the display at the default resolution.   When I crank it up to high res then after about five shots it refuses to take any more until it's finished writing a previous one.  That takes long enough that I miss a large portion of the show.
Double-check focus
When you turn the camera on for the show, make sure the focus is set to infinity.   (Mine actually forgets all its settings.  I have to reset all of the above.   Luckily, since I go through it just a few minutes earlier it only takes about 30 seconds to repeat the process.)
During the display:
Don't overexpose
Each year I tend to oversaturate the first few shots.  They come out as featureless white streaks.  I've ended up closing down the apeture and playing mostly with the shutter speed.  That yields more detail as the fireworks move and spit out bits.   But do play with it some during the show, just to see what kind of variety you can generate.
Play with the shutter speed and apeture
Every once in awhile try changing the shutter speed.  That will give you longer and shorter streaks for the fireworks.  Really long exposure times will often cause the CCD to capture a lot of noise, too.  That might be a good thing or a bad thing.   It just depends on the shot.  But usually you won't want much noise, so keep the exposure times fairly short.  This year (2005) I paid attention to my settings.  I was shooting an f-stop of 11 with a shutter speed around one second.  That might be a good place to start.
Remove the camera from the tripod
I've had surprisingly good luck taking medium-long exposures while moving the camera.   But none of the effects have been planned.  Unless you have some way to get lots of practice it will be pretty much random chance whether or not any of them turn out very good.  Sometimes I move from side to side.  Sometimes I move the lens in a circle.  A couple of my best have been when I've twisted the camera while trying to leave it centered on the shot.

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Last modified: September 24, 2006
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