Tag Archives: How To Take…

How To Take… Fireworks

At this time of year photographers love to have a go at taking firework shots. They are not always successful, as it’s a bit more tricky than it looks. So I thought I would give you a few tips for the next time you see some pyrotechnics.

  • Turn off flash – it won’t do you any good
  • Use Manual focus – set the focus on your lens to something which is close to where the fireworks are going off and leave it there
  • Use a tripod – you won’t get sharp images unless you do
  • Use a low ISO setting (eg ISO100) – for the best quality without noise
  • Use a high f-stop – such as f/9, to give you good depth of field
  • Use a wide-angle lens – the widest you’ve got, the better. You can always zoom in a bit when you see where the fireworks are going off
  • Use a cable release – this will help you avoid camera shake when you press the shutter
  • Use live view – if your camera has it, this can help you compose your pictures without having to have your eye glued to the viewfinder – then you can observe the action a little better
  • Use the BULB setting – if your camera has it (or the longest shutter speed if not). This means the shutter is open for as long as you keep your finger on the button. Experiment with different shutter speeds to see what you get

Here’s the technique I used – camera on a tripod, with cable release, full manual focus and full manual exposure – set f/9 and use BULB with a cable release. Watch the fireworks as they go off, try holding the shutter open for different lengths of time to see what you get with the firework trails.

These are some of the shots I took at the local fireworks display yesterday:

1 second exposure
1 second exposure
2 second exposure
2 second exposure
3 second exposure
3 second exposure
5 second exposure
5 second exposure
7 second exposure
7 second exposure

How To Take… Water Splashes

I’ve often seen other people’s photos of water splashing into a surface and thought I should have a go at it myself. With the My Year In Pictures project, I’ve kept a list of subjects I should try, to give some inspiration on days when it’s not nice outdoors or I just can’t think what to take.

Today, I had a go at some macro shots of water splashes. It’s harder than it looks! You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and a small aperture to give you maximum depth of field. Both of which mean you will have to use a high ISO setting and/or flood the image with light.

Some photographers use a high-speed stroboscopic flash to do the job for them – it recharges in a fraction of a second and allows several shots to be taken in one burst. But I don’t have one, so I dug out an old 1000W video lamp from the back of a cupboard and tried that:

[Setup in my kitchen – bowl of water on stripey wrapping paper; camera turned vertically on tripod on left; the 1000W video light on second tripod to the right]

[Closer view of the camera and bowl with water bottle cap just seen at the top]

I was using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, fitted with a 12mm extension tube which allowed much closer focussing and greater magnification.

After much trial and error with the placement of the bowl, focus, position of the light and camera settings, I came up with the following as a reasonable set-up:

  • ISO speed: 500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250th
  • Aperture: f/6.3

I had tried using 1/1000th and f/4.0 but they weren’t as sharp as I’d have liked – so I moved the light closer to the subject and got a better exposure.

The trick then is to drop a broken stream of water from the nozzle of a drinking water bottle with a sports cap. I had pre-focussed on a fork poked into the surface of the water (to get a proper focus point, otherwise you are focussed on the wrapping paper below which is no good for the splashes).

Then you have to try and aim the water drops into the same place as the fork was, whilst holding down the shutter button – I had the camera on high-speed motor drive. Take tens of shots and find the best half dozen!

[Splash! The water surface breaks up nicely when the first drops hit]

[Gravity Well – I like the way the falling stream makes a hole in the surface]

[Bubble Group – taking shots after the disturbances have died down can be equally rewarding]

The last picture here and my Pic of the Day for Day #29 show that you don’t always have to photograph the turbulence to get some good pictures – handy if you don’t have high speed motor drive.

I’ll certainly be having another go at this sort of picture, perhaps with some different backgrounds and lighting. Why not give it a shot too?

How To Take… Kids Portraits

I’m not a great proponent of formal portrait for adults, let alone kids. They rarely sit still and pose how you’d like, and I find the pictures usually end up looking stilted and a bit false. I admire photographers who can get good results from the studio, but I prefer a more candid approach.

Here are a selection of pictures I’ve taken of friends’ kiddies.

[Alexander in front of a window, natural light. His mum was behind me]

[Lizzie getting very sticky when we were out having a cake. The table was in a covered courtyard with a great skylight above]

[Alexander gets a push from Dad. Overcast day, so I got rid of as much sky as possible from the composition. At the playground can be a great place for action shots.]

[Conor & Meghan posing in an old wing chair. Natural daylight from a patio door, and a tight crop to get rid of any background intrusions]

[William – was playing with his mum’s hat, as we were about to go out. A bit of fill-in flash gave catchlights in the eyes, without being too harsh on his face]

It’s best to get the children in question doing something – perhaps playing with their toys or dressing up. Or, if you’re lucky, “caught in the act” of getting sticky, etc.

Of course, if the children aren’t yours, you should always get their parents’ permission before taking their picture.

How To Take… A Photo Essay

A Photo Essay is a set of pictures which tells a story. It need not be about anything profound, but the images must tell the story with little textual explanation. As you can see, each individual image is no masterpiece, but taken together they form a coherent set which fit together well.

For a bit of fun, I decided to photograph the story of my lunch a while ago. I used my Canon IXUS 850 IS, rather than waving my expensive camera over a frying pan. Here’s what I came up with:

[1. Fresh Rashers – straight out of the pack]

[2. Into The Frying Pan… – a non-stick pan is essentail!]

[3. Sizzling Rashers – are browning nicely]

[4. Lashings Of Sauce – a good dollop of ketchup on the bacon is a must]

[5. The Perfect Bacon Sarnie – crispy bacon, malted brown bread, oozing with ketchup. Lovely!]

[6. Ketchup & Crumbs – is all that’s left!]

Why not choose a subject and have a go at a photo essay about it? You might be surprised what you come up with!

How To Take… Concert Photography

Novice photographers are often disappointed with the shots they get from their cameras at concerts and other low-light situations. This is usually due to the fact that, if left to it’s own devices, the camera will decide what ISO speed to use, and can also insist on using on-camera flash.

If you’re at a concert, using flash can be enough to get you thrown out of the venue (to say nothing of it being pretty rude going off in the artists’ faces). It also results in very harsh, flat lighting, which completely drowns out any of the colourful stage lighting, ruining the atmosphere.

In order to capture the colours to full advantage, turn your camera to manual – or at least, alter the ISO-setting to the highest it will go – 800 or 1600 if possible, and turn off the flash. This should force the camera to choose a wide aperture and fastest shutter speed possible, which will help capture the colours and action on stage.

[The Rumble Strips – stage lighting effects are good to capture with the wide angle lens]


Alexandra Palace, for a private gig by The Rumble Strips. Because it was a private show, photography was allowed, but this isn’t always the case at concerts. I was right in the front row, so no-one’s head was in my way!


  • Canon EOS 30D set on ISO 1600 and Programme AE
  • Canon 17-85mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for wide shots
  • Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for closeups/portraits


Try to get the musicians “doing something” or at least, appear to be in the middle of singing!

[Tom Garbutt on bass, with a green spotlight picking out some highlights]

[Henry Clark on trumpet, with a magenta spotlight backlighting]

If you can, try and fill the frame for some interesting shots of the instruments:

[Closeup of the poor old battered guitar Charlie was strumming]

It’s always good to be right at the front of the crowd, to get the best pictures. And if you can turn off you flash and wind up the ISO sensitivity of your camera, you’re likely to get more interesting pictures than the bloke next to you holding up a camera phone!