So you want to take some photos of the fireworks with your Fuji Instax instant film camera this Independence Day & you’re wondering how to do that. Well, you’re on the right track by studying up BEFORE loading up your camera & heading out to a fireworks show.
While seasoned photographers who don’t shoot film anymore are likely to tell you to leave your Instax at home, they are probably unaware of a number of characteristics of Fuji & Lomo Instax cameras that make shooting fireworks REALLY easy & fun.
For starters, you need the right Instax camera! The BEST Instax cameras to use for fireworks are the Fuji Instax Neo Classic Mini 90 & Lomography Lomo’Instant, Mini or Wide model. The reason for this is that this is these are the only Instax cameras currently available with a Bulb Shutter mode. Bulb Shutter mode is a bit of a throwback to vintage, mechanical cameras wherein, the shutter is held open for as long as you press the shutter release button. In other words, the shutter speed is not timed by the camera, it’s timed by the photographer. YOU tell the camera how long the shutter should stay open. How do you know how long to hold the shutter open, you ask? I will get to that in a moment!
You MIGHT be able to squeak by with a Fuji Instax Mini 25, 50s, or 70 but only the brighter, closer fireworks will expose well because these cameras only have a 1/3rd or 1/2 second minimum shutter speed. The Fuji Instax Mini 7s, 8, Polaroid PIC 300 & the Fuji Instax Wide models, just can’t photograph fireworks because their shutters cannot stay open long enough at around 1/60th of a second.
In order to take good photos of fireworks, we need 2-5 seconds of exposure (shutter open). The Instax 90 can stay open for as long as 10 seconds, the Lomo’Instant Wide to 8 seconds & supposedly the Lomo’Instant Mini can stay open pretty much indefinitely until the batteries drain anyway.
What’s cool about shooting fireworks, or anything that requires a long shutter, is that these cameras are all very lightweight & do not have very long lenses. The advantage here is that, unlike shooting fireworks with a DSLR, you don’t need a tripod. You can just hold these cameras up to the sky & shoot fireworks by hand.
Also, you don’t need to worry about focus. Focus should always be set to infinity. Cheaper digital cameras cannot be changed out of autofocus mode & can easily fail to focus correctly on moving, contrasty fireworks. Fuji Instax cameras have fixed, meniscus lenses that are always focused from about 2 feet to infinity. Lomo Instax cameras can easily be set to infinity.
The other good thing about all these Instax cameras is that they have very slow lenses which are perfect for fireworks. You needn’t change your aperture (f-stop) at all with the Fuji Instax 90 because it’s fixed at f12.7. With Lomo’Instant, you have a range from f8-32 to choose from. F11 & 16 are fine but you can do 32 if you want since you have that really long shutter.
If you totally don’t care, or just don’t know about the technical details I’m talking about, don’t click away just yet, here are the steps below!
All that’s left is to:
1.) Show up at a fireworks show with a loaded & charged Instax camera & plenty of extra film.
2.) Set your camera to Bulb Exposure Mode.
2.) Holding it very steady, point your Instax camera at a flying flaring firework &
3.) Press & hold the Shutter Release Button as soon as you want your photo to begin & release the button as soon as you want your photo to end.
So, if you want a photo of only the explosion, at the moment the firework explodes, press & hold your shutter release button & let go as soon as the sky goes black. Here are a couple examples:
If you want a photo of the “tail” or the trail that the firework creates as it ascends into the sky, press & hold the shutter release button as soon as you see the trail. Don’t let go of the shutter until the sky goes black again.
If you want a photo of multiple fireworks in the same shot, press & hold the shutter release button when the first firework goes up & don’t let go until after another firework has exploded & you then see a black sky again.
While shooting, try to hold the camera very steady or you’ll get blurring & wiggly motion trails. I find that with my Instax Mini 90, there’s no need to take a breath or prop the camera on anything. Just try to hold the camera steady & anticipate where the explosion will be so you don’t have to recompose when the firework explodes & you don’t have the explosion on the bottom of the frame!
Here’s a shot taken by my 4 year old daughter. Notice that she framed up the firework nicely, got the right moment, but those wiggly trails around the circumference are when she wasn’t holding the camera perfectly steady. Still, a great shot but just to give you an example of camera shake.
I would recommend bringing at least two twin packs (40 photos) of film with you for a good half-hour fireworks show. The more film you bring, the more you can experiment & miss a few shots & work for the really good ones. I think the biggest mistake people learning to use any kind of film make is not shooting enough due to cost. I know the cost of film can be an annoying thing to worry about but at the end of the day, if you can’t or don’t want to spend the money, you’re just not going to learn to shoot as well. Nobody can learn anything without practicing & you can’t practice without plenty of film. So instead of buying a bunch of sparklers & glow sticks, buy yourself another box of film, the photos will last longer than a sparkler or glow stick!
Finally, for the more adventurous shooters, a neat method I tried with my Instax Mini 90 is to do a double exposure of my family & the fireworks in a single frame. I set the camera for double exposure mode. Then I took one flash photo of my wife & daughter & composed them on the lower left side of the frame. Next, I took my second exposure of an exploding firework without flash & a long exposure as detailed above. After the second shot completes, the film will eject. This works best if you can ensure that the background around your friend or family member is completely dark or black, no other people or objects in the negative space around them.
I hope that my tips will help you get some GREAT fireworks photos with your Fuji Instax camera! If you have any questions or just want to share your instant firework photos, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
*for 2020, I shot fireworks with my 90 year old Leica, check out the results here!
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