Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Shooting Fireworks

Hi All,

I've searched the archives but couldn't find the thread on fireworks ...

With Canada Day (July 1) & July 4th coming up, I imagine some of us will have to shoot some fireworks displays.

I've got a job coming up where fireworks will be PART of the scene. So far '7274 is the emulsion of choice. Our lense kit will open up to 2.1 We'll be shooting at 29.97

I'd hate to burn a lot of footage by bracketing exposures too much.

Anyone with good/bad experience with fireworks?

Rick Gibbs
PEI, Canada


/_ just a lurker in search of his .sig _/



A few years ago Allen Daviau was giving a lecture and mention how he was on his way to shoot "Avalon" and on the plane he picked up a "Popular Photography" that was left on the airplane. Oddly enough he said it had an article on shooting fireworks. Since Avalon had fireworks in it, he found this article of particular interest. I can't remember the details but I think he said he was shooting 96 and that stop was around a 4-5.6.

Since fireworks are hot, they have a tendency to blow out.

Good luck.

Tom Jensen
Los Angeles.

I would probably opt for '17 or '18 instead of '74

John Babl

I would suggest you ask your local photo store for a "Black Cat Exposure Guide". It is the most complete reference on rules of thumb for un-meterable and long exposures where reciprocity failure can come into play . This includes info on shooting the phases of the moon, skyscrapers at distance (you don't want the windows to blow out) and FIREWORKS!.

Remember, the firework tracing across a black sky is a very hot pinpoint source, so still photographers shooting a 1 sec exposure to catch the burst should stop down to around f11.0 to f16.0 using 100 asa film. A 1/15sec exposure at 100asa would be f2.8.

If you look at slides on the 5th of July, you will see they lack composition. Ideally the bursts would resemble a flower arrangement in a tall vase, not too many, not just one, but just the right amount to fill out the frame nicely.

The cover photograph for New York magazine of the Statue of Liberty festooned with bomb bursts lighting up the Harbour during the American bicentennial was done using a simple, clever compositional device.

The photographer had his camera on "B" (locked open) he used a black cardboard oatmeal tube cap as an exposure "switch". The humble assistant had a plexiglass sheet clamped on a gobo arm, with the outline of the Statue and the framing lines traced out on the far side of the plexi. When the photographer withdrew the cardboard, beginning a new sequence, the near side of the plexi was used to quickly eyeball and mark the location and size of each burst. When the arrangement started to fill in, that sequence would end. They knew where the holes were, and if too many shells went off in the same area, that was a burnout, so they advanced the film for the next sequence.

Hopefully this still shot info can inform your motion work.

Terry Lilly
Hollywood, CA
Indy factotum

When in doubt about things like fireworks, flames, strobes, light streaks in time lapse etc I used to use Polaroid, either in a back on a medium format still camera or in an old Polaroid camera I own.

Now, however, I use a digital SLR, set it to the appropriate film and shutter speed and guess no more. As a bonus you can connect it to the video-split monitor and set the director's mind at ease.

Paul Hicks

>Now, however, I use a digital SLR, set it to the appropriate film and >shutter speed and guess no more.

So shooting w/ a D100-could you set EI to say 200,(emulating 5217 for instance) set shutter close to 1/48th to simulate the cine camera's 180 degree shutter and pick your aperture?...

It would be interesting, but do you trust the metering? (I would definitely break out a spotmeter to compare readings...)

John Babl

Some guidelines to shooting fireworks on the Kodak website :



John Pytlak
Eastman Kodak Company


Obviously you need to apply some judgement and comparative metering, however, it's been amazing how close the digital still images have been to the final telecined images.

The shutter speed is set exactly that way - ie 8 fps = 16th sec with 180 degree shutter or 15th of a sec if that's the only setting available.

A 90 deg shutter would give you a 32nd of a sec etc.

I often use moving theatrical luminaries , such as Golden Scans, strobes, pyros such as flame bars as light sources along with camera movement for deliberate streaking in the frame. The digital camera is a big help.

What I'm looking for is the right degree of effect and the right ratio of lighting, if my overall exposure is out a little I trust the wonderful latitude of film to save me.

With flame etc my standard start point is " What would it look like in sunlight?" adjust from the old rule of f16 when the shutter speed = film speed.

Paul Hicks

Dear CML’ers,

Some years ago I shot fireworks scenes for stock shot.

5279, f 4, 24 fps.

Look good in telecine.

Best regards,

Adriano S. Barbuto
Sao Paulo / Brazil

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