Our Photography Courses Blog
Last night here at we were photographing two of the most difficult subjects. Modern cameras are designed to measure reflected light – the light that bounces off an object that is illuminated by something else. They are not good when the subject is itself lit up. It can be tricky to do firework photography, or lamps, stained glass windows, and all manner of things where light is emitted or transmitted by the object.
However, it is easy enough to fix – in fact there are a couple of ways you can take this into account if you are using the P A/Av or S/Tv modes:
Firstly, you can simply change the exposure compensation – this is the plus and minus button on your camera which enables you to make the picture brighter or darker. Brightly lit subjects are usually found with a dark background, and this dark background courses the camera to overexpose. So using a little minus exposure compensation, setting the camera to -1 for example, will reduce the brightness of the whole picture including your brightly lit subject as in firework photography. We finally photographing snowdrops, which are usually surrounded by very dark leaves, that we had to set the camera to -2 to see detail in the petals.
Secondly, you can change your metering mode to a mode that is more targeted to the subject. Using centre weighted metering means that the camera now does 75% of its metering on the 25% of the frame around we’ve focused. This makes the subject more important in the exposure calculations.You could even use spot metering, which does 100% of its metering on a small 3% or 4% spot around where you focus. Obviously you need to be very careful with this, and it can be very unforgiving, but it will mean that your subject is properly exposed. Some Canon cameras have a partial metering mode which does a slightly bigger 8% spot which does 100% percent of the metering. This is not quite as harsh as spot metering, but in practice pretty close. In firework photography we would suggest using matrix or Evaluative metering to keep the exposure stable for firework photography.
And lastly – forget about your flash. Flash is useless in firework photography and you need to turn off. Thankfully in the PAS M modes of the camera the default position is off and you need to specify if you want it on.
The problem is with subjects like glowing fire and firework photography is that they are too bright for the above techniques a lot of the time. So you may need to resort to using M. We aren’t big fans of using M for beginners because people end up with complete rubbish but with strange subject like this it may be unavoidable. Where your camera may only allow -2 or -3 stops of underexposure when you use the plus or minus button, or this the manual you have as much underexposure as you like. Remember that firework photography requires a slightly long exposure to capture the explosion and fallout of the rocket, As well as the underexposure needed to ensure that the explosion itself isn’t just whited out.
As always, you need to keep an eye on the length of your shutter speed so that you can hold the camera still (see our brilliant article here), you may need to to alter your ISO to accommodate this – in practice since you are shooting a little bit on the dark side this is less of a problem than you think. if your ISO is too high a black areas will have that nasty noisy purple spot look so trying to keep it down – most cameras can manage about 1600 without too much trouble. Have a play – it’s not as hard as it looks, and as always if you have problems send us a picture and we’ll take a look at it, or join the Photography Mentoring Service for more detailed one to one feedback.