With clear skies and summertime temperatures dominating the long evenings, it is time to focus on those much sought after holiday and event photographs – bonfires, fireworks or a patio lantern lit backyard oasis.
The absolute “must have” tool for successful firework shots is a sturdy tripod, don’t leave home without it, hand-helds and monopods simply won’t cut it for this type of photography. In fact, I highly recommend a cable release, as this eliminates the potential of camera shake and fizzy outcome. Wireless remotes are inexpensive and a welcome portable addition to any gear kit. Choose your setup locations carefully, no obstructions.
In my experience I have discovered that a zoom lens fixed on a tripod with a wireless remote provides the easiest setup with the most promising results. Once you have your setup in place, aim the camera in the general direction after you locate the first burst. (Don’t try and get the “money” shot on the first try, use this as a guide to enhance your chances of acquiring a kaleidoscope of colourful sky designs. Focus your lens at infinity and back it off just slightly. Continue to use that focus, even though fireworks’ height and location are unpredictable, your success percentage will be much higher than attempting to adjust, pan or zoom in or out to catch every burst.
When setting up your camera, make sure your flash is turned off and increase your ISO settings to 400-800 depending on how much light is available. (There is no standard setting that will work in every situation; you will have to experiment a little until you are satisfied with the results.) Depending on what type of display you want to capture I suggest shutter speeds between 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 and 1/4 second.
Bonfires can create wonderfully warm glows and soft shadows for portrait images and as the evening progresses fire can make for an amazing backdrop for various silhouette stories. A zoom lens is a good idea so that you can be back from the flames and the heat. Make sure your flash is off as it will light up the area far too much and you will lose that inviting cozy moment you were hoping to capture.
Take an overall incident meter for light (or use the TTL meter on the camera) so you can adjust camera settings accordingly. A Tripod is a good idea. Vary between wide open and tight apertures for different effects. Also, don’t forget to focus on the wood embers for a few shots. I personally suggest longer shutter speeds, wider apertures and higher ISOs in a campfire environment. (The closer you are to the fire source the shorter the shutter speeds can be)
Finally, backyards have become choice locations for capturing evening glow and carefully placed twinkles. Home owners have taken it upon themselves to create their own personal travel destination right in their backyard with strategically placed solar lights weaving their way through garden paths, walkways and deck stairs. Illuminating umbrella lights coupled with a vast array of candles and torches and you can transform almost any space at night. Capturing this vision takes a little more effort. The best way to get the right exposure is a larger aperture and higher ISO. (Depending on the make and model you may notice some graininess with a very high ISO – adjust accordingly).
In very low light situations you may have the option to bounce your flash up onto a outdoor patio roof or awning, this can create an indirect light source without losing too much atmosphere. Keep in mind that the harsher the light used to freeze the action at night, the more likely the background will disappear into the darkness because the flash will not carry that far.
These are guidelines to help you get started with the wonderful world of night light photography and how to capture it. I can’t stress enough that knowing and understanding the fundamentals of your camera are key, yes that means reading and reviewing the manual frequently. The second best way to ensure you have a technique, style or concept down pat is to practice, practice and then practice some more. I tend to visit several areas of photography weekly to keep the knowledge fresh in my mind and my images sharp and up to date. Starting a personal portfolio that includes side notes as well as images is a great tool to use for reference and inspiration. Revisiting each area frequently can be a great motivator to try new areas or further expanding existing areas.
If you are serious about your work, taking the few extra steps to stay on track, understanding your tools and practicing the techniques, you will undoubtedly be heading in the direction of fulfilling your photography dream. Until next month Happy Clicking!!