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Firework engagement photos

triga22triga22 Member
edited May 2014 in home
Hello everyone! I am brand new here and brand new to the photography world. I recently bought my first digital camera! I know crazy huh? I have always used my cell phone to take pictures. However I bought a "decent" camera for one reason... Vacation photos, more specifically night time firework photos.

Here is the story. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Disney this winter, but she doesn't know that I am proposing to her, during the holiday fireworks show! Im very excited and have some time to plan everything out, I already have a lot down pat. The only thing I know little about is how to get the best picture. My brother will be there, she wont know, to take pictures of the engagement. I would like to know if it would be best to use manual modes, that I could possibly set up ahead of time, or if simply a night time auto picture mode would be sufficient.

The camera I have is a Nikon Coolpix l820. https://www.google.com/#q=nikon+coolpix+l820

The plan is during the fireworks towards the end when they do surrounding fireworks, I will pop the question, and the pictures will begin. We will be further away, so possibly the fireworks wouldn't be as bright if that helps at all.
Here is a video from where the proposal will happen. If you skip to 4:32 that is when the pictures will be taken. They will be of us, a couple, in a dark rooftop with a sky as the backdrop and obviously bright fireworks.

This isn't exactly what we are doing, they did theirs on the beach of a resort, but something very similar. He mentions that he wishes his pictures looked better, but honestly If I got something that good I would be happy.


Sorry for all of the talking! Thanks for your help!!!!


  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2014
    Hi Triga22,

    There are several ways to go about it.

    Manual mode, yes, I would for starters.

    1] Silhouette shots, just have the camera mounted on a tripod set on around 200-400 ISO, shutter speed 30 seconds, aperture f8.0. Then you can let the fireworks come in around different parts of the frame, and you could even place a black card in front of the lens (with no lens hood) and take it away when there are bursts of fireworks, put it back, take away, etc. You could even put shutter in 'bulb' for this method.

    2] Same method, but have a flash even if it's just in someone's hand, and set it to manual output and just point and fire at you/girlfriend. This will require some tests, go out somewhere with city lights behind you, set the camera up, set flash to around 1/4 power [manual], make sure you memorise the distance and take tests.

    3] Flash on/off camera, set camera on tripod, and maybe around ISO800, shutter around 1/100th, f8.0 and take shots.

    Test against city lights beforehand.

    Don't worry about the fireworks light, they are strong, it's the distance from them to you which will make them small in the frame like that video.

    4] Video Light or some form of continuous lighting. Camera set up, ISO probably around 2000, shutter around 1/20th, aperture f4.0 and take shots when fireworks light up.

    These figures are not hard and fast, although it's fairly easy to take pics, you need to know basics.

    Speaking of camera/flash, it has a pop-up flash, you would need to be able to test it for power, but more importantly see if you can disable it from 'auto popping up' if going for silhouette or video lighting so it does not fire, if not, you would need to place a black cloth over top of it and just block the flash light.

    My last wedding with fireworks was July, 2012, and it was raining slightly, I had my camera on a monopod, video light, WB around 3200K, [to keep it warmer instead of 2800K], ISO 2000, Shutter 1/8th sec, f3.5 for this shot below.

    Mind you, these fireworks were more the 'Roman Candle' style, since it was on private land so no big bursts in sky, but, I was also less then 10 meters from the action. I have another coming up with fireworks later in the year.

    Here is a great link to an article Neil posted on.


  • Trev- thanks for that wonderful reply. Awesome picture as well. It sounds like the best thing for me to do is to try taking pictures at night with a light in the background and a dark foreground. Could I try this with even taking picture in my front yard with the street lamp in the background?
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    Yes, but if keeping the shutter open you would need to be aware of any extra light coming from behind you influencing the outcome.

    but sure, street lamps are great way to start testing, even better, if you can get up on a balcony and shoot city lights in general also.

    Regarding having a flash off camera with someone firing it, there is no need to even have a trigger to fire when shutter is fired, just turn it on, manual, starting testing maybe from 1/4 power if ISO is around the 400-800 mark, point it at the 'test subject' and just push the flash's 'test' button, it fires.

    You would of course, need to write down all the settings, including how far the flash was from the subject matter, so you can precisely duplicate the test shots perfectly.

    Of course, this is when you have a shutter around 1 second or longer, have someone press shutter, say fire at same time, then another person do the test fire from the flash. It works, I have tried it personally, no different if flash on camera, off camera, or being triggered by shutter or pushing the test button.

    As I said though, the settings are not hard and fast, you need to vary, see what you get.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited April 2014
    You will have better results if you shoot in Manual Exposure mode.

    Exposures should be around 2sec to 1/15th second mark, to get the fireworks.
    Your aperture is most likely going to be a middle aperture - around f/5.6 or so.
    ISO most likely around 400 ISO.

    As with most types of photography, you will have to juggle your camera settings to get to what works best.

    Then you've exposed for the fireworks.

    Then the couple needs to be lit up as well, since you're unlikely to get a perfect silhouette.
    Off-camera flash is best.

    This is very much the same technique as described in the tutorial on Dragging The Shutter:
  • triga22triga22 Member
    edited April 2014
    Trev and Neil Thanks for the input! It sounds to me like I am trying to do something impossible with the camera I have. The camera I have wont let me change the shutter speed manually. All I can change, really, is ISO and flash.

    I understand that my equipment is not that good, but in order to get the best out of it what should I do?
    I was thinking that I could put the ISO to 200 and use a slow sync flash. This slows the shutter speed automatically, I don't know what to, and uses the flash to illuminate the foreground.

    Its either that or fork over the money by this Winter for a good camera.... Please don't tell me I have the itch now :P

    I will try and take some nighttime pictures and I will post them, with the settings used, this week.

    Thanks again for the great help
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    Don't give up just yet, only you will be able to try some things and see what happens, but unfortunately if you cannot control all 5 elements (ISO/Shutter/Aperture/Flash Power/Flash Distance) you will be behind the 8-ball from the start and would need to 'luck out' on getting shots with no guarantee.

    Knowing absolutely nothing about the camera model you have I would be in no position to recommend to try 'settings A v's B'.

  • Well I took some pictures last week with the coolpix and they turned out okay at best. So I bought a D3200! I can test the camera next week when we are down there watching the fireworks at Disney. for a D3200 what would be the best settings to try out. ISO 200, f3.5, shutter .2 sec? I would be using the flash on the camera. Set it to less than full flash?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Yes, full manual output will most likely be too much. Try TTL, but you will get more consistent results with manual flash.
  • Thanks Neil! I re-read your post about dragging the shutter for the wedding firework photos and you used an ISO 400 shutter speed of 1 sec and f 6.7. You also used a flash outside of the camera. Basically anything 1 sec and lower with a ISO of 200-400 should give me a decent shot?

  • This is another video of the fireworks, but this is taken with a tripod inside the park.

    I have been watching the last minute of the video to get an idea of how long to leave the shutter open. I am thinking between 1sec and 1.5 sec. My only issue with that is how much movement would go on in the foreground. I have been reading up A LOT on ISO, F stop, and shutter speed.

    It sounds like an ISO of 200 is spot on. That leaves the shutter speed of 1-1.5 sec, honestly a 1 sec shutter would give me a better foreground but slightly less trails on the fireworks. Then a f from 5.5-7. I am getting beyond excited to use my camera next week to take pictures. I will post them! Thank you guys for all the help.
  • triga22triga22 Member
    edited May 2014

    This picture was of a person with the Grand Floridian in the background. The flash was set to auto, but if you compare to the next picture, this one is too bright. ISO 200 F 8 Shutter 1sec

    This is the updated picture of the couple. I messed with the manual flash and put it on 1/4. ISO 200 F9 Shutter 2.5 Surprisingly the faces actually were clear, but we stood very still. Both pics were with flash on rear curtain.

    F10 ISO 200 Shutter 2 sec

    F7.1 ISO 200 Shutter 1.6

    F 7.1 ISO 200 Shutter 3 sec

    F14 ISO 200 Shutter 5 sec

    F10 ISO 200 Shutter 2 sec

    Some of the pics are too big to upload, any very bright firework pictures such as the last one didnt come out well. The finale is completely white.

    Please critique me and give extra advise as needed.

    I am thinking after testing the pictures of doing ISO 100-200 F 7.1-10 Shutter 1.6 sec. Flash on manual either half or quarter. What do you guys think?

    I found these pictures and I would love something that looks similar.


  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I think you did exceptionally well, especially considering this is a first try. Well done.

    One thing to note ... you need to focus on the couple.
    The fireworks can handle some fuzziness from not being in focus, because there is movement anyway ... but the couple needs to be pin-sharp.
  • triga22triga22 Member
    Thanks Neil for the quick response and complement! I wouldn't have done so well if I didn't have the help from folks like yourself. Yes I will focus on the couple when the real picture is taken. I tried to block out most of our bodies, to hide everything lol, do can you tell from what I left of her shirt that the flash on TTL was too bright?
    I know there is room for leeway here, but I don't want the couple to be overexposed. So what about ISO 100-200 F 7.1-10 Shutter 1.6 sec. I think F5.6 would affect the couple too much? Or would the flash on rear curtain fix that issue? Flash on manual either half or quarter. Thanks again Neil!
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Rear-curtain sync only affects the flash-to-ambient timing, not the exposure.
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