The Big Boom

Every night for the last two weeks I've heard pops and booms going late into the night. What am I doing up at 2 a.m. on a weeknight? None of your business. But what are people doing setting off FIREWORKS at 2 a.m. on a weeknight? That's the real question!

Fireworks are pretty tough to capture. Consumer cameras have all kinds of settings meant to make it easier, but those never seem to work. Cellphones? Same thing. This Saturday, July 12, will give you one of the last big chances this season to photograph fireworks when the city of Hartford makes their display at Riverfest. Here's a few things I've found to work.

"Great American Boom" at Stanley Quarter Park in New Britain. I wanted to capture the park filled with thousands of spectators. I was leaving early to file photos on deadline, and stopped to capture this near the park entrance. July 5 2014. f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/15s

The first thing you want to think about, like anything, is composition. Do you want these fireworks against the stark, black sky? What's in the foreground? What's in the background? Look for something to help them stand out.

Sure, this could have been nice. No tripod, and I tried to focus on the firework instead of the flag. FAIL. f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15s exposure.

Fireworks are bright, move fast, then vanish. With a fast shutter speed you'll freeze the explosion, but may not recreate the vibe of a fireworks display. Too slow of a shutter and the light will streak. Which could be pretty cool, but fireworks also produce clouds of smoke, which you'll notice with a brighter image. Likewise a fireworks finale looks amazing to the human eye, but too slow of a shutter to capture it will just create a blob of light.

Even here the smoke cloud is evident, but at least wind was carrying it away. Here I tried to balance the luminosity of the Hartford cathedral with the fireworks. f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/50s.

Cool streaks, light nicely balanced. At Provincetown, July 3, 2013. f/8, ISO 100, 4s exposure.

Notsomuch. Same display as above, but multiple shells around the same height in rapid succession got too bright. f/4, ISO 100, 2s exposure.

This past weekend I had the best success while photographing the "Great American Boom" at Stanley Quarter Park in New Britain for the Hartford Courant. I wanted to capture not only the fireworks, but their illumination on the crown watching them. Shooting at f/2.8, ISO 3200, and 1/15s to 1/40s seemed to be the sweet spot for catching both. At those speed it's highly, highly recommended to use a tripod.

Lying down on the ground, catching the right angle for these siblings watching the fireworks in silhouette. f/3.5, ISO 3200, 1/40s.

Have fun!