Tag Archives: pro photographer tips

Fireworks Photo Tips

Summer is here and the Fourth of July is right around the corner.   That means its time for some fireworks photography.  Fireworks displays are an exciting subject because of their visual qualities and the technical challenges they present to a photographer.  They are a great subject for creative photography and definitely something to include in your summer photo agenda. I have includes several fireworks photo tips in this article to get you started.  Fireworks are fun and beautiful photography subject for and the sky is literally the limit on how creative you can get shooting them.


TIP #1 – Keep it Steady!Fireworks photography  used to illustrate the Fireworks Photo Tips article  written by pro photographer Dan Splaine  ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine - All Rights Reserved

Keeping your camera steady during a long exposure is an important skill to master.  It is especially critical when you are photographing fireworks to secure your camera and to avoid camera shake!  We use long duration exposures (shutter speeds) to capture the action of the cascading embers and for working in low light conditions.  A tripod is an essential tool for this type of shooting. The heavier your tripod the more stability it will give.  Camera shake and movement will blur your image and the tripod provides the camera a solid foundation for those long exposures. Although a tripod is your best option you can use other support devices to stabilize your camera (sand bag, mini-pod etc…).

TIP#2 – Trigger Carefully

One of the most likely problems with camera movement comes when you depress your shutter button to make your exposure. The pressure exerted by your finger is enough to introduce camera shake and blur your image capture.  Having a light touch when triggering the shutter. Camera shake is more likely to occur with point and shoot digital cameras because  force is greater on a smaller object.   Some cameras and lenses incorporate image stabilization technology which can help reduce this issue.

The best method is to use a remote shutter release device.  Many cameras have model specific triggers as well as generic devices that are used to trip the shutter. Triggers can physically connect to the camera or work wirelessly (infrared). An alternative to a remote trigger is to use the self-timer controls on your camera.  The two or ten second delay from the time you depress the trigger till when the shutter opens allows the vibration to stop and you camera to become still.  The trick with this method is to anticipate when the fireworks launch and time your release in advance.

TIP#3 – Lens Selection

Determining which focal length lens to use for fireworks photography is relative to your proximity to the launch and display area.  In general  would select a longer focal length to help keep your frame full of the firework burst.  A mid-range telephoto zoom lens like a 70 to 200 mm is a good choice if you have that option.  Please note that telephoto lenses a prone to vibration which makes using a tripod even more critical. Lens choice is also relative to the scope of the scene you want to include in your images.  If you want to have the fireworks be the dominant element, use a longer lens.  A telephoto lens compresses the distance relationship of objects in your scene.  A wide angle lens will allow for more skyline and the general scene in the shot.

TIP #4 – Be Prepared

Try to get to the fireworks event early so you have a good chance to scope out your camera position.  Pay attention to ambient light sources and background elements you want to avoid (street lights, power lines, cell towers, etc…).  Once the crowd shows up moving around with a tripod is a challenge so scout carefully.  Note wind direction so you can anticipate how the clouds of smoke will pass through your scene.  Smoke blowing in your face will block light and diffuse your image. Make sure you have plenty memory cards and charged batteries in your camera bag. Also bring along a penlight or small flashlight.  Operating your camera in the dark is difficult… a little light will come in handy.

TIP# 5- Frame Carefully

When you photograph fireworks your camera needs to be in position and ready to fire before the fuse is lit. Aiming your camera and establishing your point of view without the subject being present is a real challenge.  You have to anticipate and observe the path of the fireworks and plan when they will cross your image area. When you are setting up your shot consider how much sky you want to include in the image.   Be careful to keep your horizons level and vertical elements squared up.  When you are shooting consider moving from horizontal to vertical format.  Fireworks can have a trajectory that works well vertically while some of the large burst makes more visual sense in a horizontal frame.

Fireworks photography  used to illustrate the Fireworks Photo Tips article  written by pro photographer Dan Splaine  ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine - All Rights ReservedTIP#6 – Use Manual Exposure Mode

Manual exposure mode is the best way to control your results when shooting in the lighting conditions presented during fireworks.  Your camera in automatic exposure cannot anticipate or compensate for the dramatic swings from light to dark during fireworks (the bright burst compared to the night sky).  Setting your camera in manual allows you to choose the shutter speed, aperture and ISO combination that will yield the best results.Some cameras offer a SCENE MODE for fireworks which may give you a good starting point for your exposure but manual is your best option (Don’t forget to turn off your flash).  Fireworks are a great available light subject and the burst of flash will only annoy the people around you.

In general you should start with a mid range aperture, (usually f8 or f11 on a typical Dslr lens) which will provide enough depth of field.  Stopping down to smaller apertures will probably underexpose and opening up to maximum aperture will cause overexposure.   Select the lowest ISO possible to give the best results.  The higher the ISO the greater the chance you will get noise and digital artifacts, especially in your shadows.

Shutter speed is the most important exposure element to control when shooting fireworks.  Capturing the movement of the streaking lights of fireworks require relatively long exposure durations.  I would start with an exposure of about 4 seconds at f 11 (ISO 100).  Bracket your exposures by increasing and decreasing your shutter speed to see what duration is best (from 2 seconds to 8 seconds). The brightness of each burst is different so bracketing is a good strategy to get correct exposure.

TIP #7 – Use Manual Focus

Autofocus control is inherently difficult in low light conditions.  Switch your lens to manual focus and pre-focus before the show begins.  If you increase your distance away from the fireworks and use a longer lens you can set the focus on infinity in manual (infinity symbol on your lens focus scale is ∞).   With an aperture (f stop) of ʄ 8 or ʄ 11 you will maintain relatively good depth of field and the images will be sharp.

TIP# 8 – Timing is Everything

The timing of your shots is the trickiest part of making great fireworks photography.  Having the  shutter open when the fireworks shells burst is the goal.  Trip your shutter when the round is launched so you can capture the full explosion when the shell bursts and the sparks fall.   Pay attention at the beginning of the event to anticipate wind direction and avoid the changes accumulated smoke make to sharpness and color.

TIP# 9 – Experiment

Fireworks are a fun subject and they certainly lend themselves to experimentation and innovation.   As you shoot check your results and histograms on your camera display and note the changes you make.  Observe the relationship of time and motion and get creative with those photographic elements.  One idea is to bring a piece of black cardboard that you can use to block your lens with.  Using the BULB – “B” setting, you can make a composite exposure of several bursts by holding the black card in front of the lens in between launches. In “bulb” the shutter remains open as long as the shutter button is depressed. You can use your lens cap to block the lens in the same way but taking it on and off the lens may cause vibrations.  Blocking the lens between bursts while leaving the shutter open will not increase your exposure of the night sky and it will remain a solid dark background for the overlapping fireworks. Don’t forget to include other elements in your image.  Use a wider perspective to include cityscapes, silhouettes and the crowd to add a narrative element to your photographs.

TIP # 11 –Shoot RAW not JPEG

If your camera has the option, use the  RAW file format (some point and shoots do not have this option.)  Make sure you shoot your fireworks with that quality setting.  RAW is your best image capture file format.  JPEGs are your best image distribution file format.  You will have more options for fine tuning your RAW files on the computer and for dealing with the lighting challenges present in fireworks photography.


TIP# 12 – Analyze your First Shots Quickly

 Fireworks shows move quickly and in general the most action is at the end of the show.  As soon as the fireworks display begins fire off a few frames quickly and quickly check your results.  Examine your framing and focus.  Look at your histogram to see the exposure qualities.  You may start with a bracketed exposure sequence (2, 4, 8, 16, 30 seconds) and compare the results.  Once you figure your settings you can then concentrate on shooting the rest of the show.  Periodically you can spot check your results to check any changes.

Fireworks photography  used to illustrate the Fireworks Photo Tips article  written by pro photographer Dan Splaine  ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine - All Rights Reserved













HDR Photography: A Creative and Practical Photography Technique

HDR photography is a very popular topic and style trend in contemporary photography.  For an old school photographer like myself, with my quarter century of darkroom experience this is a familiar technique, albeit with a new name and some upgraded tools.  The idea of using multiple exposures to capture a wide range of luminance goes back to the origins of photography.  In the 1850’s Gustave Le Gray (French Photographer 1820-1884) combined two negatives – one exposed for the sky, the other for the sea to create a single seascape photo.

In the black and white darkroom the HDR photography tone mapping process was a manual operation. A standard print made with a uniform exposure had a limited dynamic range.  With burning and dodging we could select particular areas of our negative to change the exposure of.  Making a print could be a ballet of blocking wands and shadow puppets (I told you I was old school).

Today with digital cameras and software the HDR photography process is lot more efficient. The question for photographers is why deploy this technique? In my commercial photography work I use it for primarily practical purposes along with creative considerations.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is a solution as well as a springboard to far more expressive image making.  It solves the problem of photographing scenes with a wide range of luminosity. The process involves capturing a series of photographs with exposure bracketing and combining them into a single image that holds detail from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows.

 HDR photography example ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine -All Rights Reserved

It is a work around for the confines of digital camera sensors. The human eye can perceive an extensive range of contrast in a scene while our digital camera sensors have a limited dynamic range that it can record.  In photography, the dynamic range is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of your scene, measured in units of EV (aka stops of exposure).

The camera records most scenes well but it hits its limits with contratsy scenes, with bright highlights and deep shadows. When we make a standard exposure we end up losing detail in the far ends of the dynamic range. For example if you are shooting a dark interior of a room with bright windows and exterior views.  If you expose the shadows correctly your highlights will get “blown out” (overexposed).  If you record for your highlights accurately, the brightest parts of your shot, your shadows loose all detail.  A standard exposure is a compromise. When you shoot a HDR image you can achieve detail in the highlights of the window to the shadows of the room interior by combining your bracketed exposures.

Achieving detail in the highlights and shadows of your scene is the practical use of HDR.  You can render a very realistic version of your scene that mimics the contrast range we can perceive with our eyes.  Making a shot that presents the scene as you saw it is just one option.  With the HDR processing software now available you can get a lot more creative and experimental with your results. You can manipulate the tone map of your image rendering highlight, shadow and colors in wide range of interpretations, from hyper-colorized to subtlety de-saturated and everything in between.

How far you go with these manipulations is a matter of taste.  I pride myself in deploying this technique so that my viewer detects no distinction from reality. For me it is an updated version of an old familiar tool in my bag of photo tricks. Others have taken HDR photography in a whole new direction of creative expression- stretching the boundaries of visual interpretation.


I will be presenting an HDR Photography Workshop on April 12, 2014 in York Maine from 3 to 6 pm.  This is a hands-on field photography class and we will be covering the camera techniques for creating HDR images.  Grab your tripod and join us.  For complete details and registration got  CLICK HERE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. Based in Nashua, NH  he provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan is a photo educator and  presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England.  For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.

Professional Photographer Advice- Ten Beginner Photographer Tips

During my professional photography career I have often been asked for advice on how to become a “better photographer”, from people seeking beginner photographer tips. My snarky answer is just buy the fanciest camera you can afford and it will do the rest. The truth is that becoming more skilled with a camera and  gaining the ability to consistently  make good-quality photography requires something more.

Good cameras don’t make good photos, good photographers do.

You have a digital camera and you like taking photos. Great, now what?   It turns out that photography is very learn-able set of skills and your abilities will grow  in equal measure to the effort you put in.   What is really great about photography is how rewarding the results are.  There is nothing  like taking a shot and making the photo you imagined.   So how do you build your skill, how do you get better at making photos?

Here are some suggestions that can help. Listed below are ten beginner photographer tips that will help you improve your skills and become a better photographer.

To build your skills as a photographer you have to practice.  From the article by professional photographer Dan Splaine whcih includes advice for beginner photographres.  ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine - All Rights Reserved

PRACTICE REGULARLY  – We all know that to become a good musician  you have to practice.  The same is true for photography. In fact many of the motor skills and cognitive processes we use to take photos are like those of musicianship.  The more you practice, the  better you will know your camera and the more creative you can get with your photography.   Practice on a regular basis and your photography will improve. Practice, practice, practice…

ABYC- “ALWAYS BRING YOUR CAMERA”  The number one reason people miss good photos is because they don’t have a camera with them.  Make it your habit to always carry a camera with you, because you never know what you could miss.  Compact cameras are easy to keep on hand and with today’s tablets and smartphones there is no excuse not to have a camera.  Now if you go to the bother to carry  your camera make sure you use it.  Look for photography opportunities in your daily life. Watch for interesting lighting and moments  and shoot simply for the fun of it.  Be ready to explore the world visually always.

You need to understand how your camera works in order to get it work for you.  Advice from pro photographer from his article with tips for beginner photographers. Photo of digtal camera menus and controls.  ©2014 Daniel J. Splaine - All Right ReservedKNOW YOUR CAMERA  – You don’t need to memorize every feature right away, but over time you should get comfortable enough so that using your camera becomes second nature. It’s like learning to shift gears or ride a bicycle – only when the device operation becomes  habitual do you get where you are going with ease. Invest the time to read and refer to your camera owners manual. Learning your camera capabilities and tools will help you get more consistent and better looking results.

LEARN to “READ” LIGHT–  Light is the primary creative tool for photographers. The name itself , derived from the Latin “photo graphis”  means “light writer”.  Light is your instrument. Just like with books, before you learn to “write” you had to learn to “read” .  Understanding its qualities and features, and how to manage light is the core of photography.  Making correct exposures is part of knowing light, real understanding comes from “reading” light.

PHOTOGRAPH THE FAMILIAR– The refrain in every writer workshop is “write what you know”.  The same advice is good for photography.  Spend your time looking at and photographing the subjects that interest you or know the most about.   It takes a certain amount of experience and confidence to approach strange and unfamiliar situations and is hard to do well.   Capture what you are most familiar and  interested in and you will capture your viewer’s attention.

SLOW DOWN .  Our digital cameras  allow us to shoot in a rapid fire way with ease.   It is tempting to push the button and hope for the best, to trust the camera to get lucky and make a decent photo. Good photography begins with good ideas, with thought.  Take the time to think about what you want to show  in your photo and how to best show it.   Slow down enough to check your lighting, your framing and  for any background  distractions.  A few seconds of scrutiny can make a big difference in the quality of your photos.

TAKE a WORKSHOP or a CLASS–  Almost every photo skill can be researched and self-taught with effort.  Sometimes it’s nice to have someone guide you a little.  That is where photography workshops  come in.  Investing a few hours or a few days dedicated to learning photography will accelerate your skill building. There is nothing like working and socializing with a group of photographers, and with a well qualified instructor, to improve your photography.

BREAK HABITS – It is very easy to  get into a methodical routine with our digital cameras.  Developing  an habitual approach to your photography is human nature.  We achieve a comfort level. a familiar pattern and ultimately a creative rut.  Break your habits.  Experiment with new methods and techniques.  Get out of your comfort zone and get creative. Photograph your least favorite and most challenging type of subjects and shooting situations.

LOOK AT OTHER PHOTOGRAPHY –    Art History courses are always the foundation of formal artist training for a reason.  One of the best ways to  become a  better  is to get familiar with the work of other photographers. Looking at other photographer’s images is inspirational and informative. Examine the photos that you like and think of the reasons why. Try to deconstruct the technical and creative  features of the photo.  Don’t mimic what you discover, use the insights you find to refine your own style of photography.

SHOOT MORE–  SHOOT, SHOOT,  SHOOT!!!!!!    If you think you shoot enough – you don’t. Unlike with film cameras, there is no cost ( besides data management) to capturing more images, so there is no real downside to  taking a lot of photos. Don’t just shoot for quantity, shoot for quality.   If your think you’re done with  a scene or subject approach it again from a new angle or with a different lens.   When you travel to  new places or are having one of kind days make sure you take it all in with your camera.  Don’t just get a few frames when you can get several and work at creating  something special.

Use your camera  often, seek new photo experiences and  your skills and confidence will grow.

AYBC- Always Bring Your Camera-  Advice from professional photographer Dan Splaine  from his article with advice for beginner photographres.  ©2014Daniel J. Splaine- All Rights Reserved

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. Based in Nashua, NH  he provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan is a photo educator and  presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England.  For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.