If you’re planning on filming fireworks this summer, you need more than just a blanket and picnic basket—you need a game plan for mastering high-contrast, low-light shooting.

Filming explosive, airborne, or nocturnal subjects is rare for most filmmakers, and capturing your best footage of fireworks will require facing all three at once. To help with this, we’ve outlined some tips for refining your technique in advance of Independence Day weekend.

 
Only Manual Settings Can Bring Balance to Your Firework Footage

If you make the mistake of setting a mode to automatic (such as shutter speed, aperture, gain, or focus), your camera will struggle—and ultimately fail—to adjust to the rapid changes in illumination and movement: dark skies, red sparks, dark skies, gold sparks, dark skies, green sparks, etc.

There’s too much back and forth for your sensor to make sense of, so you’re going to have to tell it what to do by adjusting your settings manually and locking them down.

Rather than exposing for the dark sky, set your exposure in anticipation of the shimmering lights. The exact settings will vary depending on your equipment, but you can use surrounding light sources (such as streetlights or sparklers you strategically brought with you) as a guide to avoid blowouts or underexposure.

 
Download this Slow Motion Video of a Silhouetted Girl Holding a Sparkler

 
The Early Filmmaker Captures the Best Footage (of Fireworks)

Arriving early and scouting locations prior to sunset will not only allow you to claim the best spot before massive crowds arrive, but to try out different perspectives, set your focus while there’s still enough light to see, and experiment with different focal lengths.

If you arrive late and have to choose whatever space is available, you risk poor framing, blurry shots, and the unwanted obstructions of other people’s heads and elbows.

When scouting your filming location, consider framing elements other than just the sky to help give the fireworks some perspective. Silhouettes of city skylines in your foreground can make your footage much more dynamic, as can the placement of historic buildings and bodies of water (which will add an element of reflection).

You’ll also want to bring a tripod to help nail down your framing with precision—and, more importantly, to help with stabilization so you can leave the rapid movement to the rockets.

 
Download this Bright Light Shower Fireworks Footage

 
You’ll Gain More from Aperture than Actual Gain

You’ll also want to avoid going crazy with ISO or gain, unless you want the noise in your blacks to rival the fireworks. Instead, let your shutter speed and aperture do most of the work. With burning hot magnesium as your subject, any reasonably fast lens should do just fine.

Keep in mind, though, that you can’t quite focus to infinity at f/1.4, so stop down a bit to balance your exposure with a reasonable depth of field. Once again, you’ll want to nail your focus while it’s still light out and make sure autofocus is turned off, or your lens will hunt for focus the entire time and ruin your shots.

 
Download this Slow Motion Bright Sparkler Footage

 
Share Your Footage with VideoBlocks

Finally, don’t forget to share your resulting masterpieces. We’d love to see links to your footage on our Facebook and Twitter pages or in the comments below—and you can always submit footage to our Marketplace if interested in becoming a contributor.

 

Light it Up