Regardless of your camera, once you’ve worked out the shutter speed/aperture/ISO combination, the key to success is a solid platform to hold the camera motionless during the time the shutter is open. This is pretty much a requirement for all time-exposures or shutter speeds slower than 1/30 of a second. Obviously, the best platform of all is a tripod. It provides a solid, easy-to-carry base on which to hold the camera motionless during the exposure. It also allows you to easily position the camera at the proper elevation. All DSLRs and almost all point-and-shoots have a threaded opening on the bottom that permits you to attach the camera to a tripod.
A tripod is just the beginning. You also want the camera to be as vibrationless as possible during the time-exposure. Since pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to vibrate, you can avoid this by also using a cable release. The cable release enables you to press the shutter button without touching the camera directly. Result: It helps minimize camera shake.
Advanced Hint: For the ultimate in steadiness, on some professional DSLRs you can lock the mirror in an up position. Why do this for fireworks photos? Because when you take a normal picture with an DSLR, the mirror snaps up during the moment of exposure, then snaps back so you can set up the next shot in the viewfinder. When the mirror snaps up, it causes the camera to vibrate for a moment. While this vibration is usually tiny, if you’re a purist and want the steadiest possible time-exposure, you can eliminate this vibration totally by locking the mirror in its “up” position. Of course, you can’t frame the next shot in the viewfinder if the mirror is locked up. But this may not be so big a problem as it seems. After all, typically, fireworks appear in only one specific segment of the sky, so once you’ve aimed your camera-on-tripod in that direction and framed the shooting area, you can lock the mirror up unless you have to reframe for different shots.
Back to basics:If you don’t have a tripod handy (or you’re using a camera that doesn’t have a tripod thread), don’t give up. Try placing your camera on a makeshift solid platform, such as a fence post, a railing, or a wall. None of them is as steady or convenient as a tripod, but they’re infinitely better than hand-holding.
A word of warning: If, by any chance, you are on a rocking boat when trying to capture fireworks photos, your tripod or the ship’s rail or whatever you use as a “platform” will rock along with the boat. Result: In your time-exposure the firework color-streaks will come out rocking and wavy instead of straight. This may be interesting modern art – though we doubt it! – but it’s definitely not good firework photography. It won’t look right! Our advice: If you are on a rocking boat, don’t bother to photograph the fireworks. It’s a waste of time.
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