I love a fireworks show. There is nothing like the mixture of its color and sound painted against the night sky, and if you’re lucky, reflected in a lake or river. It’s an incredible sensory experience, and it’s something I want to photograph, even if I have no idea what I’ll do with the resulting pictures.
Making great fireworks pictures is hard because of the random nature of the bursts, and the need for longer exposures to capture the trailing and bursting effects in the photograph.
You really don’t know what you’ll get until the picture is taken, which makes it more about “the decisive edit” than the “decisive moment” (sorry Cartier-Bresson!) That makes it a perfect subject for digital photography where taking thousands of pictures, unthinkable in the film era, costs us just a few pennies.
But what really changes the game is a feature built into most high-end (and some lower-end) digital cameras called an intervalometer. A intervalometer is essentially a programmable cable release that lets you automatically take a picture at a regular interval of time. For example, you can program it to take a photograph every ten seconds for a period of an hour, or any other length of time you want.
With an intervalometer, it’s easy to take hundreds, if not thousands of pictures over the course of an event like a fireworks show, then use your favorite editing program to find the frames that really captured the magic.
Intervalometers also make it easy to make time lapse movies. Even at low resolution settings, digital cameras can capture 1080p HD resolution. Programs like Quicktime Pro make it easy to turn a folder full of pictures into a time lapse movie with quality that equals what you’ll see on the Discovery Channel.
If your camera doesn’t have an intervalometer, check out the Pclix. For just under $200 you can add a powerful and easy-to-use intervalometer to a wide range of cameras. I use it with my Nikon D300 because it offers me far more features than Nikon’s built-in option. Mine lives in my camera bag, and I don’t go anywhere without it.
Like any powerful tool, intervalometers require some practice to get the hang of, so start learning and experimenting now. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your Fourth of July fumbling with camera menus, instead of enjoying the fireworks show. That’s what I really love about the intervalometer…now I can now take my fireworks pictures automatically, freeing me to sit with my kids and enjoy the show with them!