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Multiple Exposure Fireworks: A Detailed Guide to Nailing the Shot

A whole sky of fireworks might look pretty, but sometimes, you just want to capture the effects that you like best. Why not use your camera’s Multiple Exposure mode to create your own fireworks montage? Here’s our guide to recreating the look. (Reported by Gensaku Izumiya)

3 multiple exposure fireworks

EOS 5DS/ TS-E17mm f/4L/ FL: 17mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1 sec. ×3 shots, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: 3,000K
Shot with a tripod
Location: Asakawa-machi Fireworks Show (Fukushima Prefecture)

 

Step 1: Preparing for the shoot

1. Do your homework!

i) Scout the location. Go when it’s still bright so that you can identify where the fireworks will be ignited.

ii) Get hold of the event brochure if there is one. The brochures for major fireworks shows often indicate the size and type of fireworks as well as the sequence—extremely handy information for planning your shoot.

iii) Plan your equipment (See 2. Equipment to use). Fireworks shows are often crowded, and you will want to travel as light as you can. Getting an idea of the size of the fireworks and their distance from you can help you determine which focal length(s) you need. For the shot above, I decided to use a 17mm prime lens.

 

Fun fact: Firework sizes

Small to medium fireworks shows like the event where I took this shot usually use firework shells of no more that 15cm in diameter. A 15cm shell can burst as high as 190m in the air and reach a maximum width of 150m. Meanwhile, very large fireworks shows might use shells as large as 60cm, which can reach an altitude of 450m and have a maximum burst as wide as 500m in diameter.

 

2. Equipment to use

 

EOS 5DS

EOS 5DS
Not only do you get detailed depictions with an ultra-high-resolution camera like this, the high pixel count also comes in useful if you decide to crop the image later.

TS-E17mm f/4L

TS-E17mm f/4L
While this is not an absolute must-have, a tilt-shift lens can eliminate any perspective distortion that might decide to show up. Whether you use a wide-angle or telephoto lens will depend on the conditions at your shooting spot.

 
Cable release

Cable release/Remote switch
A cable release or remote switch is a great help for long exposures. Not only does it help you to control the exposure time and shutter release timing, it also prevents camera shake caused by depressing the shutter button with your fingers. If your remote switch comes with a timer function, that’s even better!

ND filter

ND8 filter
You might be using the lowest ISO speed and narrowest aperture possible, but fireworks are so bright that your image might still end up overexposed. An ND filter helps to reduce light intensity and prevent such overexposure.
Find out more about the Pros and Cons of an ND Filter.

 

Step 2: Setting up the camera

1. The basic settings

I use these for photographing single fireworks, but they also apply for multiple exposures:

i) Mount the camera onto a tripod. Make sure that the setup is firmly secured.
ii) Attach the cable release/remote switch.
iii) Turn off the long-exposure noise reduction feature to ensure sharper images.
iv) Set Picture Style to “Landscape” to make the colours look more vibrant.
v) Set your shooting mode and settings. My go-to settings are: Bulb mode, ISO 100, f/11.

 

Cable release and camera on tripod

A cable release or remote switch allows easy shutter operation and helps to prevent camera shake.

Mode dial in Bulb mode

Exposure continues only while the cable release button is being pressed and held down.

 

For a quick recap on fireworks photography basics, check out:
Photographing Fireworks: A Tutorial

 

Tip: Don’t set your shutter speed too fast

Failed fireworks shot

Shot at 1/15 sec
If exposure time is too short, the light trails from the fireworks won’t be as clear and the shot will be less impressive.

Here are some tips for getting the shutter release timing right for single exposure shots—and more:
4 Expert Tips for Capturing Great Shots of Single Fireworks
3 Things You Never Knew About Photographing Fireworks

 

2. Prepare your lenses

i) Use MF to focus. This way, the focusing point won’t shift unintentionally when you press the cable release button.
ii)  Adjust the focus to infinity.
iii) Any movement in the focus ring can cause your shots to become out of focus. To avoid that, use gaffer tape to keep your focus ring in place.

 

Set to MF

MF switch set to MF mode

Set to MF so that the focusing point does not shift unintentionally when the cable release button is pressed.

Set focus to infinity; seal the lens body with gaffer tape

Focus ring sealed with gaffer tape

Secure the focusing ring with a gaffer tape to prevent the resulting image from going out of focus.

 

Bonus tip: Focus on the fireworks launch site if you can

If it’s daytime and you can see the cylindrical vessels for the fireworks that indicate the fireworks launch site, use MF and set your focus on them in advance.

 

Step 3: Right before you shoot

1. Compose the shot for the first exposure in a horizontal orientation such that the firework is captured on the left side of the frame.

2. Observe the first firework. When the first firework is set off, check the height and size of the burst through the camera. While it is ideal if the firework you are going to capture is of the same size and soars to the same height and position in the sky, it is also fine if they are slightly different.

 

Step 4: The actual multiple exposure shoot

1. Before pressing the shutter…

i) Turn on the multiple exposure mode and set the number of exposures. For this shot, I set it to “3”. If you’re new to fireworks photography, you might also want to use the black cloth method.
 

Multiple exposure settings menu

My settings:
Multiple exposure mode: On: Func/Ctrl (Function and control priority)
Multiple-exposure control: “Bright”.
No. of exposures: 3
*Image shows the menu screen on the EOS 5DS/EOS 5DS R, and may be different on another camera model.

 

ii) Do not start shooting immediately! When you hear the first burst, quickly check the camera screen for the height and size of the firework and whether it is correctly positioned in the image.

 

Tip: Tail or no tail?

When a firework is launched, you will see a light trail that forms a “tail” as the shell moves up the sky. You can choose whether to include this in your composition. For this shot, I excluded them to focus the viewer's attention on the main bursts.

 

When to press the shutter?

Illustration on when to release shutter

Start exposure when the “tail” of the firework disappears. If you want to include the tail of light into the composition, start exposure as soon as you hear the sound of the burst.

 

2. Shift your composition to capture the subsequent fireworks

The final image will not look well-balanced if you simply pan the camera randomly after the first shot. Plan where you want the fireworks in each exposure to go, and shift the composition accordingly.

I took three exposures of the fireworks while rotating the tripod platform by 10° after every exposure. I placed the first firework (A) on the left side of the frame, the second (B) right in the centre, and the third (C) on the right side of the frame.

 

Composition diagram showing order of exposure

In the merged image, all the three fireworks were of the same size (12cm diameter shell). B is positioned at 10° rightward of A, and C is at 10° rightward of B. You can vary the angle of displacement according to the focal length of the lens and size of the firework.

If you have a series of fireworks released consecutively, here’s how to capture them in the same frame:
Shutter Speed Tips: How to Capture an Entire Series of Fireworks in the Same Frame

 

Lastly: Take note of things that could ruin your shot

1. Outdoor tents and other large, stationary elements

Failed multiple exposure: Double vision tents

When you pan the camera in multiple exposure mode, any stationary object captured will be aligned differently in each exposure. This can result in a misaligned “double vision” look, especially for large objects such as tents and buildings. In the successful shot, I didn’t have that problem as I used the night lights as the backdrop.

 

2. Overexposure/underexposure

Overexposed shot: Blown highlights

Overexposed firework

Underexposed shot: Fireworks look too dim

Underexposed firework

How close or far the firework is from the camera results in different perspective effects, and and this in turn could alter the brightness of the shot. Some fireworks might also be significantly brighter than the others. Control the exposure by adjusting the aperture as necessary.

 

Here are some more ideas for getting creative with fireworks:
How to Capture Artistic Handheld Shots of Firework Displays!

 


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Gensaku Izumiya

Gensaku Izumiya

Born in Akita in 1959, photographing fireworks has been a lifelong passion for Izumiya. He mainly photographs landscapes, commercials, people, goods, and cooking, and creates photos of fire and water. A member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society.