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Is there any way I can get rid of the smoke (or reduce it to a minimum) when photographing fireworks?

Like a minimum distance from the event, position from the wind and surrounding lights? Exposure tricks or even using a filter? How can people shoot smokeless fireworks?

I'm not especially looking for post-processing tips, but if there's any I'd be curious to know how that works.

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2  
“Make sure you are ready to take pictures of the first fireworks. If there isn’t much wind, you are going to end up with a lot of smoke in your shot. The first explosions are usually the sharpest one.” <- from digital-photography-school.com/how-to-photograph-fireworks –  Jukka Suomela Feb 4 '11 at 15:04

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is a semi-famous trick known as the black hat trick. What you do is set your camera to take a long exposure, and put a black hat over the camera while you are waiting for the fireworks to burst. Then right before the fireworks burst, take the hat off. It should greatly reduce the amount of smoke you see in your images, and not show the rocket blasting off either.

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8  
@repecmps The hat is a manual shutter. –  whuber Feb 4 '11 at 15:54
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This would only work if it was very dark in the area, dark enough that the inside of the hat is completely dark. Then what you'll get is only the exposions of the fireworks, and as a nice bonus, you can combine different fireworks. It works well from what I've heard, but I haven't had a good chance to use it yet, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 4 '11 at 16:30
3  
It works because you get many explosions and trails in one image, rather than one or two. The trick is to set up an exposure lasting 15-30 seconds, and catch multiple explosions in that time. Some new bodies allow in-camera multiple exposures, which would be a better solution than a long-exposure with a blocked lens. –  Greg Feb 5 '11 at 2:20
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@Greg: For that matter, you could combine them in post, but... –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 5 '11 at 2:25
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And while doing so, make sure to also cover the viewfinder, as light can leak through there during long exposures (or so I was taught 30 years ago using an old East German manual SLR). Set camera on B (Bulb), compose, cover viewfinder with its cover (if you don't have one, use something else), cover the lens with black cardboard. Using the remote, trigger the shutter and when you want something exposed, uncover the lens for a moment. –  jwenting Feb 23 '11 at 10:02

If you know the area, and the generally wind direction, try to get a place to shoot from that's 90 degrees from the wind direction. That way the wind will blow the smoke out of frame.

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The obvious tip is to check the weather report and plan to get a spot upwind. Having smoke behind the fireworks is much better than blocking the view (it's also not fun when ash starts to blow in your face, eyes, lens). If there is no wind, you'll want to be ready when the first few fireworks go off. Have the camera set on all manual settings, a few stops under exposed (since the fireworks will be adding lots of light), manual focus at infinity, mounted on the tripod, etc. The photos will get worse towards the end of the show, so trial and error is not your friend in this situation.

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Post processing is probably the only way to eliminate the smoke completely. Given that the fireworks themselves will be very bright in relation to the rest of the picture, you can just adjust the tone curve so all but the very brightest tones are reduced to black.

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I don't know if this is too obvious, however I'd simply suggest not shooting them from behind (or even from the side). Try to get on a building or something. (I haven't tried it myself, but logically thinking, that should avoid the smoke getting in your way as much as possible)

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I can't see where is the behind or side of a firework :) –  repecmps Feb 4 '11 at 14:44
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Think upwind vs. downwind. The smoke is going to spread in the direction of the air flow. If you are upwind, the smoke will be blown away from you, and if you are downwind it will be blown toward you. If there is no wind, you may have a situation where the smoke just expands in place--not an ideal situation. –  Berin Loritsch Feb 4 '11 at 15:04
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Behind: Opposite of the direction the fireworks are going to. Side: Photographing orthogonally to the direction the firework is moving. –  eWolf Feb 4 '11 at 15:28

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