Capturing spectacular nighttime photos

There is something in the air – FIREWORKS! By this time in July you might be coming down from the excitement of the Fourth of July. You may also be looking at the photos you took with a little disappointment. Fireworks and other nighttime action can pose photography difficulties. I’ve got some tips to help you prepare for the next fireworks display or other night photography using your camera phone or a complete digital SLR (single lens reflex) setup.

The first tip is to know your equipment. You might not think that this pertains to camera phones but a lot of camera phones have extra features. Photography equipment (including your phone) can be complicated so I always read the instruction manuals. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure out how something works and miss taking that spectacular photograph.

Image with camera shake taken by Travis Garwood

In low-light photography you always need to keep the camera steady. Fireworks have the advantage of being their own light source. Meaning their own light will travel to the camera to create the photograph. Even with this advantage you need to keep the camera steady to not cause camera shake. Generally it will be adequate to hold your phone steady if you are using a camera phone. Leaning against or resting the phone against something can make your photograph steadier.

Beneficial camera shake image taken by Travis Garwood

When using a SLR camera I recommend using a tripod for stability. It is possible to hold the SLR camera in your hand without a tripod, but you will need to make sure you are careful and keep your camera stable. If you don’t use a tripod with the SLR camera it makes using longer shutter speeds impossible without getting camera shake. When using a longer shutter speed on an SLR camera another important step in reducing camera shake is a remote trigger or the timer feature on your camera. The act of pushing the shutter release button down can make the camera shake so taking steps to prevent that is important.

On a Creative note, it is possible to use camera shake as a creative tool. Sometimes happy accidents will give you an interesting result. The photograph above is an example of the camera shake changing the image to an abstract image.

Do you want to get a close up image of one or two individual fireworks or an image with the whole display? That decision will determine your location relative to the firework display. If you are using a SLR camera that decision will also impact what lens you choose to use – a macro lens for full display or a telephoto lens for close-ups. With an SLR camera you change lenses during the display.

Photo taken with telephoto lens by Travis Garwood

Photo taken with standard lens by Travis Garwood









The image above and to the left was taken with a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens will get close to the subject with out physically moving closer. It is a good choice if you would like to fill up the frame but are unable to get physically closer. The image above and to the right was taken with a standard lens. This lens is useful if you would like to get a larger amount of the scene in the frame.

The key to any photography endeavor is to experiment. In the digital age this is even easier because you can take images until the storage device is full and you can delete the images that don’t work out.

If you’d like some detailed photography training, has more than 700 photography courses you can take online for free with your library card. Here are a couple helpful book lists on photography.

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Travis Garwood

I have always loved art and I’m a working artist. I mostly do photography and digital art but I also paint and make ceramics. I hold a fine art degree from Washburn University. I just love creating things.