Make Unique Fireworks Photos Using Focus Blur

An interesting technique to help liven up your images from this summer's fireworks displays.

Fireworks Blur Main

Fireworks Blur Main

For Americans, July 4th is the night for dazzling displays of roman candles and Catherine wheels. We Australians have a similar opportunity every January 26, Australia Day. I’ve always been thrilled at the holiday’s fireworks, but my pictures of the displays? Not so much.

Then I started playing with focus blur, an awesome technique that’s perfect for capturing fireworks as well as other after-dark extravaganzas such as holiday lights.

Similar to the shooting technique of zoom blur—opening the shutter and zooming through the focal length settings of your lens for a kaleidoscopic effect—focus blur requires rotating your focusing ring during long exposures. The result: Part of the firework’s arc or shape is sharp, and part morphs into a puff of defocused light and color.

By altering the speed, amount, and direction of the focus shift (from sharp to soft and back, or vice versa), you can produce a stunning and almost unlimited variety of visual effects.

Not all your focus blurs will be keepers.

To nudge the odds in your favor, follow these simple guidelines:

• Shoot from a tripod.

• Estimate your exposure, and adjust camera settings based on the results. A good starting point: 2 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 100 to suppress noise.

• Because long exposures drain batteries, charge yours fully beforehand and bring an extra.

• Standard and tele lenses produce more pleasing focus blur than wide-angles. Lenses with loose-turning focusing rings are preferable to those with stiff, overdamped focusing actions.

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Looking for more traditional strategies for shooting fireworks? Check out these tutorials