Posts in Category: Tutorials

Tips for fireworks photography

It’s the US Independence Day weekend and most people are attending some sort of fireworks event. On Tuesday I attended the Montgomery Township Fireworks at the high school in Skillman. I’ve shot fireworks for a few years and while my skill has improved over time, my technique has changed very little.

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Equipment

You don’t need expensive equipment to take good fireworks photos. Most likely the camera you already have is enough. But you do need two things.

  • A camera that allows manual control of shutter speed, ISO and aperture
  • A tripod

I use a Nikon D5100 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 for my most recent fireworks photography. However, in the past I used a low-end Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.4-5.6 kit lens. The lens you need will vary depending on framing you want for your photos and how far your are from the fireworks display. At 18mmi I can include more of the surrounding scenery in my photo. If I am far from the fireworks display I can zoom in to fill my frame.

I was able to get the photos I wanted with my 35mm lens because I already had experience shooting at the site. The camera model and brand used isn’t important. What is important is that you can individually control the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO.

The tripod, however, is essential. To get the “dandelion” light trails effect you see in good fireworks photos, the camera shutter will need to be open for a long time. A tripod will help reduce camera shake that will cause blurring and ruin your photo. With the tripod is easy to adjust the height and placement of the camera. I have a Manfrotto tripod but any sturdy tripod will do, even the $15 items on Amazon.com.

A remote release is optional but will further help reduce camera shake. You’ll be able to remote trigger the camera release. Instead of keeping a finger stuck to the camera trigger, you can sit back and fire away when you think the time is right.

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Camera Settings

Whichever camera and lens you are using, you’ll need to control three aspects of the photograph. Shutter speed controls the amount of time the camera sensor is exposed to light. For most of my fireworks photos I use a shutter speed between two seconds and three seconds. I normally set the aperture to between f/11 and f/16. A small aperture gives a wide depth of field which is important give than when shooting fireworks I won’t often know where in the sky the action will happen. ISO on the other hand controls the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. The lower the ISO the better.

NOTE: If you want to really control thing, shoot in bulb mode, and use the remote camera release to control your shutter.

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Location

I normally get to the site early so that I can scope out a spot with a clear view of the sky. I setup my tripod, mount my camera, focus to infinity, set my ISO, shutter speed and aperture and then sit back to relax until the action starts. In Montgomery Township, the fireworks are usually on the flat fields of the high school so I have an unobstructed view of the sky. Depending on the site, you may want a high vantage point like the top of a building on hill.

You’ll have lot’s of opportunity to practice in the next few weeks.

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Capture and instantly post photos to WordPress with a DSLR and Pressgram

Photographer Gevon Servo wrote an article called Five Reasons Why I Replaced My Camera Phone With an Eye-Fi Card. He described a work flow for using an Eye-Fi card for “near instant” publishing to Instagram of the images taken on his DSLR. At first, I wrote this off as gimmicky and I had a number of reasons why this was impractical.

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But as I thought more about I realized that Gevon’s idea was actually quite brilliant. I decided to test his workflow out for myself. I’ve used Pressgram for almost a month and have loved the ability this app gives me to instantly post iPhone photos to my blog. It’s a simple process; photo + filter + WordPress. I planned to attend the Asbury Agile 2013 conference and I thought it would be cool to use both Pressgram and Gevon’s workflow.

I’ve had an Eye-Fi card for about a year. It’s never worked reliably for me. I always had problems getting it to connect with my Wi-Fi and in the field it would often only transfer a few photos before failing. After reading and re-reading the online manual and some trial and error I finally paired the Eye-Fi card with my iPhone. I could have paired it with my iPad but my iPhone is more portable and fits easily in my pants pockets.

Before heading out to Asbury Agile I took some test shots around my neighborhood. I set my Nikon D5100 to RAW+FINE. Since the Eye-Fi card model I have only transfers JPG files, this setting me to capture and transfer a high quality JPG to my iPhone while keeping a RAW image for later importing to Adobe Lightroom. I took a few test shots and connected my iPhone 5 to the ad-hoc Wi-FI hotspot created by the Eye-Fi card. At first no images transferred to my iPhone. After fiddling around with my Nikon D5100 I discovered a menu setting to enable or disable the Eye-Fi card transfer. Once I enabled this feature the Eye-Fi card transferred images to the photo library on my iPhone.

The transfers aren’t blazingly fast but they are fast enough. I can shoot just one image, wait for it to transfer to the iPhone and then edit, apply filter and upload to Pressgram (and my blog). Or I can shoot as fast as I want (within the limits of the Eye-Fi card and my cameras shooting rate) and wait for the Eye-Fi card to download each image. I can edit and process when the transfer completes.

You can see the results. I have photos of independent UX Designer/Writer Sarah Doody and Sandeep Chand, Director for R&D at iCIMS. These images were taken from the second row with my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 at high ISO (3200 to 6400) and f/1.8 (it was a very dimly lit room). After taking the photo, it took about 15 seconds for the images to download, another 15-30 seconds to select the right image, square crop, add a filter (or not) and import into Pressgram. A few lines of text, some hash tags, and I was ready to post to my blog (or Facebook or Twitter).

As Gevon mentions in his article, this workflow gives the photographer the freedom to choose the right lens to express his/her creative vision. I have control over depth of field, shutter speed, etc. But I really like about this workflow is that I can share my creation instantly with my social network while creating content for my blog. I plan on using this workflow on my next photography event — Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk along the Highline.

How I use Adobe Lightroom as a blogging tool

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Since the launch of Pressgram I have thought a lot about how my photos are published. While Pressgram allows me to snap a photo, add a filter, and post my photo to my WordPress blog1 it doesn’t offer an easy way to publish photos I’ve taken with my DSLR. With Pressgram, I have full creative control over my photos and since the photos are hosted on my blog, I benefit from the traffic to my blog that would otherwise go to a social network.

But as I thought about this some and I realized that for certain photo, photos taken with my DSLR and processed in some other software like Adobe Lightroom, that I would prefer posting these photos to other communities like Flickr or 500px while at the same time driving traffic back to my blog. I could publish my DSLR photos to Pressgram but I felt that I was better served publishing them into a more appropriate community. The communities on 500px and Flickr are more geared toward the DSLR and compact systems camera (CSC) photographer2. I have accounts on both but recently have leaned toward using 500px more.

A few years ago, I settled on using Adobe Lightroom for cataloging and editing my photos. The “good” ones the ones I feel comfortable sharing publicly, end up on my blog. My current workflow for publishing photos involves exporting a suitably sized photo to a local folder, optionally optimizing the photo using JPEGmini, then uploading and posting to my blog3. JPEGmini helps improve the performance of my photo heavy blog. Occasionally I remember to upload them to 500px via a 500px export plugin for Lightroom.

Here’s the current “publish” workflow.

  • Select the photo I want to publish.
  • Export photo to folder.
  • Launch browser and login to blog.
  • Create a new blog post entry and upload photo.
  • Write and publish blog post.
  • Copy text of post to clipboard.
  • Switch to Develop module in Adobe Lightroom.
  • Paste clipboard text into caption field. Add title. The caption text will become the body of the post to 500px and WordPress.
  • Export photo using 500px export plugin.

It’s not a complicated workflow but it seemed to me that there was room for improvement. When I export photos to 500px, I can set certain parameters for quality of the photo including sizing and JPEG compression. What if I could skip the JPEGmini optimization step and use the 500px optimized photo on my blog? My photos would be hosted at 500px and I would benefit from improved performance on my site since photos would be served from 500px servers instead of mine.

What I wanted was to post my photos to 500px, along with some text, while at the same time creating a blog post. Basically I wanted a Pressgram style workflow for my DSLR photos.

I had messed around with IFTTT, a service that lets anyone create connections between various online services (channels). I could create a recipe to connect 500px and WordPress. Each upload to 500px would trigger the recipe to create a blog entry. Posting my photos to 500px and WordPress would be as simple as using the 500px Lightroom plugin. My recipe requires that the photo is tagged with keyword “wordpress”. This allows me the flexibility of sometimes publishing to 500px without also creating a blog post.

Here’s the new “publish” workflow.

  • Select the photo I want to publish.
  • Switch to Develop module.
  • Add keyword, title and caption. The title will become the title of the WordPress blog post and the caption text will become the body.
  • Export photo using 500px export plugin.

When the IFTTT recipe is triggered, my content and photo will post to WordPress. Since I use Markdown to create my blog post the 500px text will appear formatted in Markdown. This isn’t much of a problem since most of my photos post don’t include links and Markdown text is easy to read. A plugin on my WordPress blog converts the Markdown to HTML. The blog posting will also include a small piece of text with a link back to my 500px photo.

I used this workflow on two recent blog posts. One about my early morning trip to Rojo’s Roastery and the other about scratching my food photography itch.

There is one downside to this. My photos will be hosted on 500px. I am will be subject to 500px TOS and if I close my 500px account or delete a photo from 500px, the photo links on my blog will break. However, I think 500px’s TOS is designed to favour the rights of the photographer. 500px keeps adding new features most of which benefit me as a photographer. I especially love the portfolio feature and I can mark my photos for sale.

This modified workflow will work with Flickr. Adobe has a built-in Flickr4 export plugin and it’s easy to create a workable IFTTT recipe.


  1. The photo will also post to the Pressgram community and optionally Facebook and Twitter. 
  2. Yes, I realize that the most popular camera on Flickr is the iPhone but I think my meaning is clear. 
  3. I almost always have a story to tell about my photos. 
  4. I prefer Jeffrey Friedl’s Flickr Export plugin