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.