It’s always an exciting endeavor for every photo enthusiast to try shooting the perfect fireworks photos. I’ve had my practice runs every Dinagyang Festival back home in Iloilo, where a big nationwide fireworks display competition is held (that aside from fireworks shows on almost every major celebration). Now it’s time for the big leagues, the most celebrated pyrotechnic competition in the Philippines and among the World’s grandest, the Philippine International PyroMusical Competition 2011 staged at the SM Mall of Asia in Metro Manila.

I was so excited when I realized my visit to Manila coincided with the event and even more so when I was allotted a complimentary VIP Pass, along with other travel bloggers. Come D-Day, I rushed to the SM Mall of Asia way before sundown to beat the traffic standstill and overflowing crowd so I can scout nice locations to shoot the PyroMusical. It’s important to think about this when taking fireworks shots since it is very hard to move to multiple locations when the show is already in full blast. I initially wanted to be at the breakwater/baywalk so I can incorporate the water and reflections in the shot but the crowd already beat me to it with hardly any space to set-up my tripod.

It was the last day of the competition. Australia was scheduled to “air” together with the guest performer from the Philippines. I settled for a decent photo spot, not the best but it was enough to enjoy the show.

Australia’s Entry

Philippines’ Guest Performace

Philippines’ Final Stint

The 2nd Philippine International PyroMusical Competition 2011

The overall winners were announced that night … even though I didn’t get to see any of them :(. They are as follows:

Champion: China Pyro Musical (Liuyang Jinsheng Fireworks, Co.)

1st Runner-Up: UK PyroMusical (Jubilee Fireworks)

2nd Runner-Up: Japan Pyro musical (Tamaya Kitahara Fireworks, Co.)

Tips for Fireworks Photography

Just wanted to toss this in. I’m not saying I’m an photo expert but these are just a few things I’ve learned about Fireworks Photography over the years:

  • As mentioned, Scout a great location first. Try to think about interesting subjects to incorporate in the background. Typically, it is a great idea to incorporate a sense of place in fireworks shots such as famous landmarks similar to what I did in the first photo, which includes a huge signage of SM MOA. Bodies of water are also great foregrounds since the reflection in the water adds interesting points to the picture.
  • Bring a Tripod. This is very important to keep everything still. If you didn’t bring one, it would be a good option to place the camera on something sturdy while taking pictures. If you’re planning on doing hand held shots, don’t even bother taking photos. You’ll just ruin your experience with mostly unusable shots when you could have enjoyed the show otherwise.
  • Be familiar your camera settings. For those with fully automatic cameras (most point and shoots), you can use the fireworks preset mode or even night mode. For DSLR users or if your camera permits, use fully manual settings. ISO should be the lowest possible (ISO200 for my Nikon D5000) and white balance to automatic. Initially, I set my Shutter Speed to 8 seconds and Aperture/F-stop to F8 and then adjust these two settings based on the shots that I want. If there are too many fireworks, causing the image to be overexposed, I just increase the F-stop. If it’s too dark, I increase the shutter speed to let more fireworks into the shot and brighten up the image.
  • Get that Perfect Focus. Also for DSLR users. What I do to get sharp fireworks shots is to (1) initially set focus to automatic (2) Wait for the first fireworks to come out (3) Do a half-press on the shutter to get the focus right (4) Switch the focus to manual. You’ll miss a lot of shots since the camera will struggle with focusing in the dark using auto.
  • Know When to Press that Shutter. To get the full burst of light, the best time to press the shutter is right before the fireworks explode. I use a remote shutter to keep everything perfectly still. Sometimes, when you press the shutter it shakes the camera and blurs the image a bit. If you didn’t bring a remote shutter, be sure to press that shutter lightly (don’t get too excited!).

If you got any more fireworks photography tips, feel free to comment!