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Fireworks photography 101

Fireworks Photography 101

You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Go early to claim your spot

There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.

Setting up your equipment

Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.

Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.

The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.

Start shooting

There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!

A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.

Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.

My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.

I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

A little post-processing helps

When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.

The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

One final note

Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.

The Moraine Lake Boathouse at Sunrise

The Moraine Lake boathouse, pictured here, houses the canoe rentals for Moraine Lake. It can get quite busy during the day, but during the early hours of the morning, it’s as still as the trees that surround it.

Nikon D800, 30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 48mm, Polarizer, 6-stop ND Filter

Nikon D800, 30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 48mm, Polarizer, 6-stop ND Filter

I’m standing on the rocks by the main walkway of Moraine Lake. But rather than taking the ever so familiar shot of the mountains and the lake, I turned my camera 90 degrees to capture the very familiar but not-so-often photographed, boathouse. I made a 30 second long exposure to get the reflection on the lake, and any loons blurred into oblivion as they crossed through my frame.

I always try and take photos in different ways than what others do in this situation, just to get that different viewpoint. What you don’t see in this photo are the many other photographers that came out to take photos of the sunrise. They were all around me, pointing their cameras to the mountains on the right. While I did my fair share of photos in that direction, I decided to add a few of these shots into the mix too, so that we can see how still this boathouse can be, contrasting it to how busy it will be in a matter of hours.

A little known fact about all the boat rentals in the area of Banff and Jasper National Parks, is that you likely won’t find any kayaks for rental! All rentals are for canoes only. Why? Well, they never said, but I would gather that canoes offer a more relaxing experience in these serene landscapes, and are more picturesque when thinking of the Canadian Rockies. That’s the only explanation I can come up with! If you happen to know the reason, feel free to let me know below in the comments!

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

Peyto Lake (pronounced pea-toe) has always been on my list of places to visit, and I was finally able to make this happen on my latest trip to Alberta. Located in Banff National Park, this glacial-fed lake is majestic in every way imaginable. The colour of the lake changes depending on how the sun is shining on it, so going back several times in a day will give you a different feel every time.

The lookout to this lake is situated in a high enough place that gives you a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountain range. The lookout can be reached by a somewhat steep 10 minute hike from the main parking lot. For tour groups, however, a secondary parking lot higher above allows for immediate access to the viewing platform. The view from here is particularly striking during a sunrise or sunset.

Nikon D800, 1/30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 82mm

Nikon D800, 1/30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 82mm

The sun set behind these mountain ranges, offering a spectacular view with Peyto Lake in the foreground.

Nikon D800, 3-Exposure Lightroom Merge, 1/20 sec., f/90, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 3-Exposure Lightroom Merge, 1/20 sec., f/90, ISO 100, 14mm

This platform (seen above), however, is often crowded with tourists always trying to get the best vantage point within a confined area. A little known fact is, that if you hike a little longer along the pathway and onto the side of the mountain (about a 500m walk further up), you’ll get to an open space that will bring you an even better view of this lake, as seen below.

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

This vantage point is not as well known as the platform so at most you’ll find one or two others milling in the area. But since this area is open with no barriers, you’re free to walk around anywhere, allowing you that perfect vantage point you’re after. You may find this regular vying for attention though. He seems to be quite popular amongst photographers coming here.

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 110mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 110mm

How to get to the secondary viewing area

This secondary view is highly recommended and only adds an extra 20-30min (roundtrip) hike from the platform. If you keep to the trails, you’ll encounter this sign below.

Nikon D800,

Nikon D800,

When you’re on the loop trail beyond the viewing platform, follow the trail to your right. After about a 5-7 minute hike, just before the loop hooks to the left, look for this sign below.

This sign is at the entrance to the hike to the open viewing area of Peyto Lake

This sign is at the entrance to the hike to the open viewing area of Peyto Lake

Follow the path that leads you into the mountainside. Eventually you will come out to an open area. The first open area you encounter offers great views, but walk a few steps more and you’ll come out to a completely open and rocky area that offers the best views of Peyto Lake, as seen here.

Nikon D800, 1/160 sec., f/14, ISO 100, 15mm

Nikon D800, 1/160 sec., f/14, ISO 100, 15mm

More Peyto Lake

Once you’ve exhausted your stay here by the rocks, you can continue on to the trail for a few more minutes where you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the end of Peyto Lake. This is something you won’t be able to see from that platform, but is quite striking in its own way.

A closeup with my telephoto lens at 200mm shows the details of the sand spilling through to Peyto Lake. I love how painterly this looked while I was standing there.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 100, 200mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 100, 200mm

Peyto Lake will always be a must-see in my books, no matter what time of day you’re able to get there. It’s a popular destination so pick your times wisely. Whether you take pictures from the platform or the open area, you won’t be disappointed with the results. It’s one of Banff National Park’s wonderful glacial-fed lakes and is highly recommended.

Have you been to Peyto Lake before? What was your first impression?

The Columbia Icefield is quite impressive

When you pass by the Columbia Icefield on Highway 93, at first sight I didn’t think much of it. It was plainly put, a large chunk of ice! We stopped by the main centre (pictured below) and looked around, took some snaps and then went back on to Highway 93 to continue on our journey to Jasper.

Nikon D800, 1/1000 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/1000 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 14mm

It wasn’t until we passed by the icefields again on our way back to Banff, that we went a little further into the icefield and actually got closer to the ice. It was then that we realized how grand of a chunk of icefield was, and that’s what left a lasting impression. We didn’t take the tour to actually walk on the icefield, but we went a close as we were allowed to go by ourselves. It’s a simple walk around the foot of the icefield, but it gives you a great view of the entire area that is much more impressive to see than from far away.

Nikon D800, 1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 200m

Nikon D800, 1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 200m

If you look at the photo above, you’ll see the tour busses that go up the icefield, allowing you to get off and walk on the ice. We didn’t sign up for this, so I simply took a picture of it. You can get an idea of how large this field is in comparison to these tiny busses. Perhaps next time if we were to go one step further and go on these busses, it will change my impression of these icefields once again.

Until then, I will be in awe of this natural icefield from the photos that I took that day.

Annette Lake in Jasper National Park

We arrived in Jasper National Park in the evening, after a long drive from Calgary. The weather was a mix of rain,  cloud, and some sky trying to peek out. We didn’t know where to go for the first sunset in Alberta so we drove around looking for a great vantage point. By googling around the vicinity that we were in, we noticed a fairly large lake by the name of Edith Lake. We headed to the point as quickly as we could, as darkness was quickly approaching and we still had a few kms to go in a place we were unfamiliar in, and bears no doubt wandering around.

We drove into a park and came upon gravel road. We were on that road for wha seemed like a long time until we saw a lake come upon us on our right. We stopped into the parking lot, conveniently located right by the gravel road and noticed a boat launching deck right by the waterside. I hurried out of the car with my camera in hand and marvelled at the tranquility of the area. No one was in sight, there weren’t any sounds except for those of mother nature, the lake was so calm that the reflection was like looking at a mirror.

Nikon D800, 1/60 sec., f/11, ISO 800, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/60 sec., f/11, ISO 800, 14mm

It was a beautiful first lake to come upon in Jasper National Park. The sun was setting in the opposite direction unfortunately so we didn’t get any beautiful colours. However, the pristine nature of this scenery really took us aback.

I loved how you can see right through the water in the foreground while you can see the full reflection of the mountains and trees in the distance. The only thing that was bugging me (literally speaking) about this moment were those pesty bugs you see flying on the top right of this frame. Yes, those are bugs (not mosquitos, thankfully) that are not afraid of you!

This view we had on our first night in Alberta was great, and we couldn’t be more excited as it was only going to get better by the day.