For most photo enthusiasts, 4th of July is more than a holiday – it is a day to practice some challenging shooting situations beyond just capturing fireworks. Here are 5 tips/shooting ideas for beginners (and reminders for seasoned shooters) that will help advance your skills over 4th of July.
4th of July Shooting Tips for Beginners
Our instinct is to freeze moving objects but then they look stationary and the image feels flat as a result. Many parade photos end up looking boring for this reason. Practice slowing down your shutter speed to something longer than 1/100th of a second (experiment). If you’re out in the bright sun, you will need to increase your aperture to compensate and prevent extreme overexposure. See this section of our sports post for more details on panning settings.
Light Write with Sparklers
• Put your camera on a tripod.
• Put your camera in “bulb” mode. This will keep the shutter open for as long as you want. If you do not have bulb mode, start with an exposure that is 30 seconds long (available on most cameras, including point and shoots). Below is an example of the bulb mode setting on a DSLR body and a mirrorless body.
• Put your lens in manual focus mode and prefocus on the area where people will be light writing (have someone stand in position ahead of time).
• Have your subject(s) write their letter or word or create their shape on the count of 3 (where on 3 they start writing and you start your exposure). When they are done you can end your exposure (how long to leave the shutter open will take experimenting).
• Remember to write backwards (or have everyone stand in backward order if writing individual letters) or expect to change it in post because everything will be flipped in-camera!
Take Advantage of Selective Focusing
Strongly symbolic holidays give you a chance to use that symbol as an anchor for your photos. Use a wide aperture like f/2.8 to practice focusing on only certain aspects of your frame. Collections of selectively-focused images look great side-by-side in photo albums!
Shoot into the Sun
It’s counterintuitive to want to shoot into the sun but there are few greater ways to show the heat of July than by shooting right into the sun – lens flares and all! Sunny, airy, and overly backlit photos just feel like summer. To shoot like this, though, you’ll need to leave your comfort zone of shooting in auto mode because the camera is good at trying to keep entire scenes properly exposed. You have to override the camera’s tendency to do this by shooting in manual mode and metering for your subject – not for the environment. Putting your camera into spot metering mode will help you with this.
Also, a very quick way to override your camera’s settings is to use the exposure compensation dial to intentionally over or underexpose your scene accordingly to taste. Above is an example of the exposure compensation dial on a mirrorless body and a DSLR body.
Capture Context During a Fireworks Show
We have an entire post dedicated to shooting fireworks so this tip is more of a reminder. We get so dazzled by the “rocket’s red glare” that we forget to paint a scene with our cameras. Don’t forget your environment while shooting – the images will help you remember details like the size of the crowd that year or the ambiance of the show. Like with shooting into the sun, you will have to make some exposure concessions with regards to either the crowd or the fireworks themselves – one will be a little underexposed while the other overexposed and that is ok! Shoot in manual mode or use your exposure compensation dial to find the right mood.
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