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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old July 27th, 2014, 07:26 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Sydney, Australia
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How do you expose for fireworks?

So, I guess there's two scenarios. What do you do for outdoor fireworks, and what do you do for indoor fireworks?

Outdoor fireworks -- it's been a while since I've shot this, but, from memory, what I've often found myself doing is letting the foreground turn to silhouette. I think, when trying to expose properly for the foreground, I've had problems with the fireworks themselves clipping and losing colour information.

Indoor fireworks -- eg, they enter at the reception, and fireworks go off. Or: they're doing a bridal waltz, and there's a shower of sparks around them.

Now, this has always been a big pain for me; I've never known what to do, and have tried a lot of tactics. Eg: riding the exposure for the changing light conditions; or anticipating what it will look like when they go off, so that there's the effect of them being lit up from darkness; or picking an exposure that I'm guessing is the closest to happy medium, and leaving it at that, to be tweaked in post.

The tactic I've settled on lately is... auto exposure. On DSLRs, if you're using auto ISO, this has the advantage of ramping smoothly rather than in a click-click-click fashion. And the results seem to be better than my guesswork attempts, or my attempts to manually adjust.

What do you guys do?
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Old July 27th, 2014, 11:15 PM   #2
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

Hi Adrian

My Sony's are technically DSLR's in a video cam body but what I found that works is shoot auto exposure (need to explain here that my cams don't talk to the manual lens so exposure is set using shutter and ISO only and I set aperture manually) What I do however is lock the ISO at a level where the blacks are still black without having to crush them .. (I run gain and for me 21db is good sensitivity with no noise which is around 2000 ISO)

The problem with allowing the camera to auto expose is that it just sees this huge black sky so it ramps the ISO up to try and get a correct exposure locking out an upper limit, my blacks still stay nice and black and the camera doesn't try to over-expose the fireworks which would simply de-saturate them and they wouldn't look at stunning.

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Old July 28th, 2014, 12:13 AM   #3
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

This looks spot on to me...

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Old July 28th, 2014, 12:28 AM   #4
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

That video makes me cringe and face palm myself every time.
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Old July 28th, 2014, 04:42 AM   #5
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

I Was a little disappointed there weren't move ricochets. So I've managed to convince our next couple to have a fireworks fight. That should cause some eyesight damage.
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Old July 28th, 2014, 07:13 AM   #6
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

I've shot outdoors a lot with stills but the principles are similar.

The brightness is much greater than you think its going to be.

Shoot on full manual. Don't have a slow shutter speed if shooting stills otherwise it will be all trails. Don't have a very high ISO because if you need to make drastic changes to the exposure in post you may introduce a lot of noise. Ride the aperture, but once you've found the sweet spot you probably won't need to change it again. You can get away with a large aperture because the distance of the subject is so great that the depth of field is huge. Manually focus and leave it alone.Frame tighter than you think you will need otherwise the display can look like a distant spec. Regard the first few seconds as your test time in which you can adjust your settings.

Again if you'll on full manual exposing for a dark sky and bright fireworks it can be very effective when the fireworks illuminate the crowd from above or when the display company employees are illuminated lighting the stuff.

Liaise with the display company to find out exactly when it will start and how long it will last. Check for any special moments. You may be able to get a position forward of the spectators but still within a safety area enabling you to shoot a view of the crowd as well as the fireworks.

Set up two or even three video cams on tripods with different manual exposures so all your bases are covered. You'll get smoother shots using a tripod but it will be much harder to react to fast rocket bursts.

Remember that the ooohs and aaahs from the crowd are attractive so record audio, don't cop out with a music track.

Try practicing at local commercial events but remember these are likely to be much brighter than wedding nights.

Have a small torch handy so you can adjust your gear quickly by sight rather than by feel - and to help find anything you accidentally drop!

Thats outside covered.

For indoors 1) leave all your gear in your car and park it a considerable distance from the building 2) take a fire extinguisher off the wall and carry it with you at all times.

Could only recall a couple of samples I have online, compilations in double page album spreads:

Ref pages49-50-stad Ashton Lamont Photo Video, Copyright

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Old July 30th, 2014, 03:02 AM   #7
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Re: How do you expose for fireworks?

Be sure to have shots of the crowd even just silhouettes with fireworks exploding in the background as it gives the shots some scale. It's normally pitch dark so a few LED video lights down on the ground (not in faces) will help with giving a bit of context & illuminating some of the surroundings & crowd. What you don't want is shots just of fireworks & a black sky.

Try & get the B&G forward if the main crowd so that you can get shots them alone with fireworks exploding in the sky behind them. Again an LED video light can provide just enough illumination that they aren't just black shapes.
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