Diwali is that one time of the year when you want to capture happy moments, your first rangoli, Laxmi Pooja, diyas, colourful lanterns and dazzling fireworks that keep the skies lit after the sun goes down. What’s most challenging to capture in the festival of lights is ‘ the light’. We’re talking about shooting diyas, lanterns and fireworks – it may seem as simple as pointing the camera and shooting, but in reality, it’s not so. However, if you keep a few things in mind and use correct shooting techniques, then you can get shots that look better than what fireworks look in reality. Here are a few tips that will help you capture brilliant shots of diyas and fireworks, no matter what camera you use.

Tips for shooting diyas

Meter the flame and shoot from odd angles to get great-looking shots of diyas

Meter the flame and shoot from odd angles to get great-looking shots of diyas


  • Diyas are the easiest things to shoot. What you should aim to capture is the flame. If there’s a gush of wind and the flame flickers, wait till the flame becomes steady.
  • Set your camera to Program mode (available in most point-and-shoots), go to the Metering Mode under settings and select Spot Metering. Now, when you focus on the flame, the camera will use optimal settings such that the flame doesn’t get overexposed.
  • It's not necessary to always shoot the diyas from the top or frame them in the centre. Get creative and shoot from different angles – for example, with the camera kept at the same level as that of the flame. 
  • Use optical zoom and lenses with large apertures to get defocussed blobs of light (bokehs) in the background – they look awesome!

Understanding the basics

Before we get into light doodling with sparklers or shooting fireworks, it’s important to understand the basics. Picture you’re given a sheet of paper and asked to draw a large circle. You’ll need a few seconds to do so. If you start drawing and stop in a second, you’ll have drawn about a quarter of the circle. In the case of a camera, the sheet of paper is the sensor and the time needed to capture light trails or doodle is controlled by the shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed, the longer will be exposure of the sensor and hence, longer light trails. However, at the same time, you also have to control the ISO and aperture in order to prevent overexposure. Higher ISO speeds boost the sensitivity of the sensor and also increase the noise levels. The aperture is a tiny opening in the lens that controls the amount of light that reaches the sensor. Lower F-stops (for example, F1.8 or F2.0) mean larger apertures and hence, greater the amount of light available to the sensor. Likewise, greater F-stops (for example, F6.3 or F8) mean less amount of light that reaches the sensor. You can check if the combination of ISO, shutter speed and aperture is correct by referring to the camera’s light meter.

If the marker is:

  • At centre of the meter – you’ve nailed it!
  • To the left of the centre – this means underexposure. Reduce the shutter speed, increase the ISO or select a lower F-stop (larger aperture) to increase the exposure until the marker moves to the centre of the meter.
  • To the right of the centre – this means overexposure. Follow the reverse of the previous step to decrease the exposure until the marker moves to the centre of the meter.
You'll need a camera with full manual controls to experiment with exposure settings

You'll need a camera with full manual controls to experiment with exposure settings

This will require a bit of experimenting with the exposure settings and metering modes. Note that you’ll need a DSLR or a digital camera with full manual mode for this. If your camera doesn’t have the manual mode, you can resort to the Fireworks scene preset.

Just to recap and cut things short:

Step 1: Set the desired shutter speed (2 seconds or greater should be fine)

Step 2: Set the ISO to 100 or 200

Step 3: Refer to the camera’s light meter and adjust the aperture such that the exposure is optimal.

Before you shoot…

  • Choose a convenient location so that you get wide open sky to shoot aerial fireworks. An elevated view with a huge skyline is ideal – your building’s terrace would be a good location. You’re lucky if you live in a skyscraper!
  • You’ll need a tripod to get steady shots, or else the trails of light in your shots will be shaky. You can buy a good one for less than Rs 1,500.
  • Use a remote control shutter release or self-timer to eliminate even the slightest jerks.
  • Don’t be content with a wide shot. Try zooming in, and you will get some nice patterns. It's even better if you get more than one burst in the same frame.
  • It’s all about timing! Release the shutter just when aerial fireworks are about to explode in the sky. For zameen chakris and flower pots, wait till they are just about to bloom in full glory!
  • We repeat – practise till you become perfect. Keep experimenting till you become a slow-shutter Ninja! Get at it seriously and your shots will keep getting better.

Now that you know the basics, pull out your shooting weapon and go on a shooting spree. Remember – exposure, timing, practice and creativity are the key! 

Here are a few samples for your reference.

Doodling with sparklers! A 5-second shutter with appropriate ISO and aperture should work.

Doodling with sparklers! A 5-second shutter with appropriate ISO and aperture should work.

Shaky light trails - This is what you'll get if you shoot fireworks with the camera hand-held

Shaky light trails – This is what you'll get if you shoot fireworks with the camera hand-held

Could have been better - the trails are small because the shutter speed wasn't slow enough

Could have been better – the trails are small because the shutter speed wasn't slow enough

Perfect shot - Shot using tripod and optimal exposure settings

Perfect shot – Shot using tripod and optimal exposure settings

Publish date: November 10, 2012 9:24 am| Modified date: December 19, 2013 4:07 am

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