November the 5th in the UK is Guy Fawkes night; the night we celebrate the foiling of the infamous Gunpowder Plot.
What was the Gunpowder Plot?
Briefly put, Guy Fawkes, a Catholic, was a member of a group plotting to assassinate the Protestant King James I. He was caught setting up 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar directly underneath the seat of the king in the Houses of Parliament on the night of the 4–5 November 1605.
In a good old traditionally gory way, after two days of torture, Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. However, he jumped off the gallows, causing his neck to break and thus avoiding the part where his guts were to be cut out and spilled in front of him.
Because of this, every year on 5 November, we light bonfires – often with effigies of Guy Fawkes on them – and have firework displays to commemorate his capture.
(To find out more about the history of Guy Fawkes, this BBC article is a good place to start.)
This year, we went to a display at a local rugby club. I haven’t had many goes at photographing fireworks before, so I wanted to try to get some good shots. I read this really useful article on the Digital Photography School website. In a nutshell:
- Exposure: somewhere between six and ten seconds. Take a tripod with you to avoid camera shake, and use a remote shutter release to avoid having direct contact with the camera. If you have one, use a cable release or, alternatively, a smartphone app that allows you to use your phone as a remote control
- Focus: set your focus to manual, if you’re able, and take a moment to prefocus the camera beforehand. If you’re unsure and don’t have something to test your focus on, you’re probably best setting it not quite to infinity and working from that
- Aperture: set your aperture to somewhere in the middle-to-small range – anywhere from f/8.0 upwards. Too wide, and you’ll let in too much light and overexpose the fireworks. And having a greater depth of field will be more forgiving when it comes to your focal length
- Sensitivity: set your ISO low – 100, if you can. This will minimise noise in your photos
If you only have a smartphone, to be honest you’ll have a tough time trying to get good shots. But, give it go – you never know what you might get.
The photos above are a selection of the best shots I got. I was close to the front of the crowd (having young children with me who needed a good view). This meant that I didn’t get wider shots of the whole scene, but I’m pretty pleased with the results (the camera settings for each photo is in the caption, if you click on the photos to pop open larger version).
Unfortunately, there was a technical hitch with the display halfway through and they only set off half the fireworks. Doh! I didn’t get to see and photograph the end of the show, which is usually the best part 🙁
The other attractions of the night
After the disappointment of the somewhat shortened fireworks display, we had a wander around the rest of the site.
There were a couple of fairground rides, some food stalls and games. I took a few shots of the night, but many of them were blurry from slower shutter speeds or underexposed. The Tagada ride was fun to shoot, as it was well lit and the speed of the rotating seats meant getting a mixture of blurred movement and good, fun captures of the people on the ride, hair flying and faces laughing, as you can see in the photos below.
Overall, it was a good, fun evening and good learning experience for shooting in these slightly difficult conditions. Oh, and we came home with two goldfish from the hook-a-duck game …
If you’ve never photographed fireworks before, or you’ve had problems getting good shots in the past, I’d really recommend having a wander around on Digital Photography School to get some useful pointers.
Do you have any favourite tips for photographing fireworks? Or any photos you’re particularly proud of? If so, please leave a comment to share.