British National Fireworks Championships 2014

Who doesn’t like fireworks? Well ok, dogs and nervous people aside, most of us do like fireworks and I’m no exception, get close up to a big display, that concussive thud in the chest and the surreal light of the exploding fireworks really does it for me.

However, sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees and when taking photos of fireworks I think you often need the bigger picture, especially if you want to place the shot in some form of context.  If you get just the exploding light trails against the dark sky, there’s no point of reference to show the extent of the firework, it’s just some pretty squiggles on the screen.  I’m not saying that you have to be miles away, but look at too many close ups of shell bursts and it soon start to be reminiscent of a bad night at Manchester’s ‘The Hacienda’ in the 1980s.

Location

So with this in mind I returned to my favourite location for shooting the Plymouth Fireworks.  Ironically, it’s not in Plymouth, it’s opposite the city on the cliffs overlooking the harbour.  Anywhere on this stretch of the coast is great, but my favourite spot is at Staddon Heights Golf Club.  Now I’m with Mark Twain on golf, but it’s a £3 entry fee to park, there’s Club House for a coffee and a burger whilst you’re waiting for the dark and not a bad view if the sunset over Dartmoor plays ball.

What makes it for me is that you’re actually shooting from above the city, so unlike many firework shots, you’re mainly looking down onto the background not up.  This means that it’s easier to place the fireworks against something other than just sky.  Go wide and you can place the display in the midst of the harbour, coloured lights reflecting off the water with the city stretching out behind.  Zoom in closer and it’s easy to include some of the many small boats that moor up in the harder to watch from afloat.

Settings

Must haves are a Tripod and ideally a cable release.  In terms of on Camera settings, it’s each to their own, search and you’ll find plenty of “How to shoot fireworks” guides.  For me, I start off with the following settings and tweak on the night.

  • Aperture: F13
  • ISO: 100
  • Exposure: 6 Seconds (Experiment, but between 4 and 8 seconds is my normal range)

After a while, you’ll start to ‘tune in’ with the display and learn to expect when to click, normally I start off when the previous firework is fading rapidly as they’ll be starting the next one to fill the gap, shoot at an empty sky and the firework will probably open up right on cue, but again experiment.