Ways to improve exposure with fireworks at night; see video and in-depth explanation below

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Hi All,

Last 4th of July I shot a nighttime fireworks video (with tons of planning, test flights, settings tests, etc.). I'm happy with the results but wondering if I could have done anything different to pull more light out of the shot without compromising the quality. Below are the settings I used (to the best of my memory):

D-Cinelike (-1, -1, -1)
ISO at 800
1/25 shutter
F 2.8

I hadn't used D-Cinelike before so that was new for me.
Anything above ISO 800 was too grainy in my tests.
I was afraid lights on the ground would be blurry with a slower shutter since the drone was moving the whole time. But I'm guessing this is the setting I need to experiment more with...

For this year's attempt, I'm looking to get less black and see more details in the ground (if at all possible). I've seen great firework timelapses with DSLRs but they were also on tripods and able to use a longer shutter. Any thoughts on how I can get an end product closer to those while still flying a programmed route?

I also did a couple passes shooting still photos as I was also doing a hyperlapse but the sped up video version you see below turned out better (and the wind cooperated more for that).
I was flying over a cemetary so I was out of reach of the fireworks and not over any people. I had a Daylight Ops Waiver, a visual observer and lights on the drone. Everything was done by the book.
Thanks for the help!

 
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I haven't attempted video for fireworks yet. Not sure how great the results can be - or even if you can slow the shutter down enough.
This is a still shot- prob about .8 sec ƒ2.8 / 100iso with P3P several years ago. Haven't had the opportunity to do this with my P4P yet. Maybe this year....
 

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Capt KO

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Look for YouTube videos on shooting fireworks. Shows the settings needed to make it beautiful in slow motion. Going to try myself as previous attempts were only ok. My local beaches are loaded with professional and novice fireworks visible from home. GL
 
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@jephoto great pic! That's closer to what I'm wanting as you can see the lights of downtown Chicago very clearly. I've successfully shot a hyperlapse at night at a port but that also had more sources of light in it (like your photo above). I'm wondering if the fact that I'm shooting a residential neighborhood at night has something to do with my lack of light (as opposed to a brightly lit downtown or port).

@Capt KO yeah, I scoured YouTube when I was planning this mission and found some great tips for upping my nighttime photo game. And I just did another search after reading your comment but I haven't found anything that really helps my particular (nighttime video) situation. I fully understand I'm trying to expose for bright fireworks while trying to get detail in the dark neighborhoods. Obviously a steady camera and a slow shutter would help buy I'm mucking things up by trying to fly from point A to point B!

If anyone else has any other thoughts, please send them my way! Thanks!
Oh yeah, and I totally forgot to mention, I was flying a P4PV2.0.
 
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One of the reasons I started applying for a remote pilot license was to film my yearly fireworks show (And the pyro license cost me nearly as much as a RePL.)
Half way through my application and I discover the cost of a permit for one night flying costs more than the fireworks....
I fail to see how ticking a box and emailing a form for $800 is fair cost recovery.
That's before I inform CASA of the pyrotechnics and apply for a NOTAM because of my local hospital helipad (which is not even registered and doesn't show on the local VNC.)
How much did flight permission cost you?
 
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@carbonhalo what country are you flying in? In the States it shouldn't cost you anything to fly unless a film permit is required by your city or local film commission. Until recently, a daylight operations waiver was required to fly at night but now it's included with our remote pilot certification (after taking one of the updated tests or recurrent classes). I don't recall if my waiver cost anything and I definitely didn't have to pay to put my drone in the air to shoot that video in the first post.

Who's charging you for permission to fly at night? Is it because the fireworks display is an organized event? Or because it's for a filming permit? $800 sounds crazy. I wonder what their reasoning is? BTW, what does CASA stand for?
 
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CASA = Civil Aviation Safety Authority... and Australia.
We are not alllowed to fly at night or over 400' without approval and one of those has to be "cost recovered"
An organised event?.... It's training day for my assistants... and my birthday party.
 
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Hi All,

Last 4th of July I shot a nighttime fireworks video (with tons of planning, test flights, settings tests, etc.). I'm happy with the results but wondering if I could have done anything different to pull more light out of the shot without compromising the quality. Below are the settings I used (to the best of my memory):

D-Cinelike (-1, -1, -1)
ISO at 800
1/25 shutter
F 2.8

I hadn't used D-Cinelike before so that was new for me.
Anything above ISO 800 was too grainy in my tests.
I was afraid lights on the ground would be blurry with a slower shutter since the drone was moving the whole time. But I'm guessing this is the setting I need to experiment more with...

For this year's attempt, I'm looking to get less black and see more details in the ground (if at all possible). I've seen great firework timelapses with DSLRs but they were also on tripods and able to use a longer shutter. Any thoughts on how I can get an end product closer to those while still flying a programmed route?

I also did a couple passes shooting still photos as I was also doing a hyperlapse but the sped up video version you see below turned out better (and the wind cooperated more for that).
I was flying over a cemetary so I was out of reach of the fireworks and not over any people. I had a Daylight Ops Waiver, a visual observer and lights on the drone. Everything was done by the book.
Thanks for the help!

I've been a photographer most of my life and that's a pretty darn long time. Video I don't know so much about, but when it comes to shooting stills there may be many ways to approach a given subject including fireworks. Perhaps something I've learned can be transferred somehow to video.

Longer exposure times will allow fireworks to create trails. They will also allow darker areas to become more exposed, areas on the ground, for example. It's hard to expose for a scene with something dark and something very bright and that's what it sounds like you want to do. It makes me think of HDR, as to stills, anyway. For video, I don't know. Perhaps some clever editing in post production. Multiple exposures will allow fireworks to layer upon each other.

For my fireworks stills I generally put the camera on a tripod, set the ISO at 100, aperture about f8, shutter speed at Bulb. I use a cable release to open and close the shutter manually guessing as to what I might have captured. Most shots are throw-aways, but now and again you get something surprisingly good.
 

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@carbonhalo thank you for the explanation. That sucks they're wanting so much money for something like that. I'm currently in Canada and a drone license here includes flying at night (like the US now does too). Hopefully more countries will follow suit.

@RussOnTheRoad Great photo! And thank you for your input. I've been using AEB for my drone photos and it definitely makes a difference. And yeah, with ISO 100 and f8 you'll need that long exposure time! Unfortunately, it's not often we have fireworks going off where we can experiment with our settings. I guess I'll just have to keep similar settings to last year and adjust my shutter speed. I had the drone flying pretty slowly last year but I guess I could try for even slower.

As a reference point, this is the video that inspired me to do my fireworks hyperlapse. True, Emeric is using a tripod and taking still photos but I guess the ground isn't as lit up as I thought it was.
 
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@carbonhalo thank you for the explanation. That sucks they're wanting so much money for something like that. I'm currently in Canada and a drone license here includes flying at night (like the US now does too). Hopefully more countries will follow suit.

@RussOnTheRoad Great photo! And thank you for your input. I've been using AEB for my drone photos and it definitely makes a difference. And yeah, with ISO 100 and f8 you'll need that long exposure time! Unfortunately, it's not often we have fireworks going off where we can experiment with our settings. I guess I'll just have to keep similar settings to last year and adjust my shutter speed. I had the drone flying pretty slowly last year but I guess I could try for even slower.

As a reference point, this is the video that inspired me to do my fireworks hyperlapse. True, Emeric is using a tripod and taking still photos but I guess the ground isn't as lit up as I thought it was.
Personally, I don't really care for the hyperlapse versions of fireworks I've seen in this thread. I think I would find real time more interesting.

What about the idea of capturing fireworks real time then adding effects in post processing? Does that thought gave any merit?

Bear in mind pretty much any shutter speed should yield proper exposure for fireworks if the aperture and ISO are set right. What would vary would be how much of the fireworks trail you would capture.

Fireworks are not like most subject matter that is illuminated with light falling on it. Exposure can be controlled for typical subject matter by adjusting shutter speed while leaving ISO and aperture alone. You can't do that with fireworks. Light isn't falling on them. They ARE the light source.

Exposure = Intensity x Time. With fireworks the intensity can be controlled with aperture and ISO, but you can't control the time as you would in a scenic. In a scenic the light source is more or less constant for as long as you want and you can double exposure by doubling the length of time the shutter is open, e.g 10 seconds vs. 5. With fireworks the light is there and then gone, and it is always moving. Shutter speed won't change the exposure only the length of the trail of the fireworks that is captured.

I'm not sure what info is online about shooting fireworks video, but I am sure there is much about shooting stills including this article on my own blog:
 
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@RussOnTheRoad I would have to agree with you based on my fireworks hyperlapse experience. I also shot a few hyperlapse versions (of the same shot in the original post) in different stages of light and they didn't turn out as well as the video versions (the one you saw in the original post was sped up in post 5X). When taking the still photos for the hyperlapse, the drone got thrown around more in the wind (probably because I was flying slower) and with the shorter shutter (to not blur the lights on the ground) the trails were a lot shorter. The video versions were much smoother and a lot longer.

Something I didn't mention was that the purpose of the video was to show how many fireworks are constantly set off above the neighborhoods of Los Angeles even though fireworks are illegal. Hence the sped up action. An actual organized fireworks show would have been a lot prettier. This was more about quantity than quality.

Great blog post, BTW. Thank you for sharing that. I wouldn't have thought to close the iris so much but I guess it makes sense if you're wanting all of the firework to be in focus and having nice long streaks in your shot.
 
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@RussOnTheRoad I would have to agree with you based on my fireworks hyperlapse experience. I also shot a few hyperlapse versions (of the same shot in the original post) in different stages of light and they didn't turn out as well as the video versions (the one you saw in the original post was sped up in post 5X). When taking the still photos for the hyperlapse, the drone got thrown around more in the wind (probably because I was flying slower) and with the shorter shutter (to not blur the lights on the ground) the trails were a lot shorter. The video versions were much smoother and a lot longer.

Something I didn't mention was that the purpose of the video was to show how many fireworks are constantly set off above the neighborhoods of Los Angeles even though fireworks are illegal. Hence the sped up action. An actual organized fireworks show would have been a lot prettier. This was more about quantity than quality.

Great blog post, BTW. Thank you for sharing that. I wouldn't have thought to close the iris so much but I guess it makes sense if you're wanting all of the firework to be in focus and having nice long streaks in your shot.

I see better now the purpose of your video so compressing time via hyperlapse as you did makes sense.

I just wanted to comment on one thing you wrote: "it makes sense if you're wanting all of the firework to be in focus and having nice long streaks in your shot." You may misunderstand. While the aperture of f8 or f11 will effect depth of field it will not effect the trails, the "long streaks" of the fireworks. That is controlled solely by how long the shutter is open.
 
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@RussOnTheRoad yeah, I think we're on the same page. I understand that in order to get the same exposure, if the iris is stopped down you need to leave the shutter open longer. I'm assuming you worked backwards in that you wanted longer firework streaks so you had a longer shutter which in turn caused you to stop down the iris more which gets you a greater depth of field so more of the fireworks end up in focus.

Since I'm usually playing with a moving drone I don't get the liberty of such long exposure times so I end up with a wide open iris. I'm usually fighting for as much light as I can so that's why an f8 sounded foreign to me. We're both shooting fireworks but in different ways with different results.

Thank you for all your insight because it will definitely help me when I head back on the 4th this year!
 
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@RussOnTheRoad yeah, I think we're on the same page. I understand that in order to get the same exposure, if the iris is stopped down you need to leave the shutter open longer. I'm assuming you worked backwards in that you wanted longer firework streaks so you had a longer shutter which in turn caused you to stop down the iris more which gets you a greater depth of field so more of the fireworks end up in focus.

Since I'm usually playing with a moving drone I don't get the liberty of such long exposure times so I end up with a wide open iris. I'm usually fighting for as much light as I can so that's why an f8 sounded foreign to me. We're both shooting fireworks but in different ways with different results.

Thank you for all your insight because it will definitely help me when I head back on the 4th this year!
I'm uncertain that you do understand. You wrote "...if the iris is stopped down you need to leave the shutter open longer...". That is true for scenics where the light source is constant but it is not true for fireworks.

How long you leave the shutter open for fireworks does very little if anything to effect exposure. (I speak from the point of view of still photography. You'll have to adapt what I say to video, but exposure is exposure whether for still or video. I don't know enough about video to speak with any authority on capturing video of fireworks beyond that.)

Think of it this way...Imagine you want to photograph a light bulb in a completely dark room. That's a lot like photographing fireworks. Assuming you set up the shot by focusing on the light bulb before darkening the room, you then darken the room (light bulb is off, obviously) then open the shutter on a camera and then turn on the light bulb on for 1 second, turn it off, then you close the shutter. It will make no difference to the exposure whether you leave the shutter open for 5 seconds or 5 hours because the light source, the light bulb is only on for one second.

Fireworks is like a light bulb. The fireworks are the light source. Shutter speed has little or no effect on exposure. Apart from the brightness of the fireworks only ISO and aperture settings will effect the exposure.

Another way to think of it is like flash photography. You may set your shutter speed to 1/60th of a second, for example, but the flash is only on for maybe 1/1000th of a second. Essentially, the duration of the flash, or the duration of the light made by fireworks is the effective shutter speed.

For situations where the light source is momentary such as flash photography or fireworks, the shutter speed has pretty much nothing to do with exposure except to make sure that the shutter is open while the light source is creating the illumination. In the formula E = I x T (exposure = intensity x time) the intensity is created by how bright the light source is and how it may be modified by ISO and aperture settings. Those things are all part of Intensity. When it comes to subject matter where the light source is not constant but is very brief or momentary, Time becomes how long the light source is on, not how long the shutter is open.

Assuming an ISO of 100, barring ND filters, a reduction of light intensity due to atmospheric haze or some such thing, you'll probably never want an aperture wider than ƒ8 for fireworks, because, apropos my comments above, the fireworks will be overexposed regardless of the shutter speed. Put another way, you don't want as much light as possible for fireworks. As in all things photographic or video, what you want is proper or optimum exposure.

HTH.
 
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Personally, I don't really care for the hyperlapse versions of fireworks I've seen in this thread. I think I would find real time more interesting.

What about the idea of capturing fireworks real time then adding effects in post processing? Does that thought gave any merit?

Bear in mind pretty much any shutter speed should yield proper exposure for fireworks if the aperture and ISO are set right. What would vary would be how much of the fireworks trail you would capture.

Fireworks are not like most subject matter that is illuminated with light falling on it. Exposure can be controlled for typical subject matter by adjusting shutter speed while leaving ISO and aperture alone. You can't do that with fireworks. Light isn't falling on them. They ARE the light source.

Exposure = Intensity x Time. With fireworks the intensity can be controlled with aperture and ISO, but you can't control the time as you would in a scenic. In a scenic the light source is more or less constant for as long as you want and you can double exposure by doubling the length of time the shutter is open, e.g 10 seconds vs. 5. With fireworks the light is there and then gone, and it is always moving. Shutter speed won't change the exposure only the length of the trail of the fireworks that is captured.

I'm not sure what info is online about shooting fireworks video, but I am sure there is much about shooting stills including this article on my own blog:

With respect to appreciating hyperlapse, I agree. If the purpose of the film is to document the events of an evening, then hyperlapse is fine. It shows more stuff quicker.

As a capture of the fireworks beauty taken from high in the sky? Hyperlapse seems more like a waste of good flight time. The fireworks seem more reminiscent of a bunch of welders grinding steel and throwing sparks in the dark.
 

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