August in Japan is the time to strap into a bright summer yukata, and head out to watch the fireworks.
Japanese summer firework nights are exciting and decadent, with the main event going on for an hour, putting to shame the 15 minute New Years efforts from my Australian hometown. Even a small city like Hikone will shoot off over ten thousand pyrotechnics, many of them simultaneously, while the country’s biggest ones in Osaka, Tokyo, Tsuchiura or Suwa will consume more than a hundred thousand.
Hanabi, the Japanese word for fireworks, along with food from a festival tent and scooping up goldfish, all to a background soundtrack of cicada song, are part of the collective idea of ‘summer’ (natsu da ne~). In August, there are fireworks being lit somewhere around Japan every day. Summer festivals are part of what make the oppressive humidity of this season bearable.
Tips for photographing fireworks include:
- Bring a tripod.
- Aperture set between 8 and 16, so as to not overexpose.
- Set the ISO low for better quality.
- Set a shutter speed for a few seconds, and try to time it so the shutter opens just before the action occurs.
- Video them instead.
Timing is the trickiest aspect. Having a shutter speed of 10 seconds produces good results when the fireworks going off are more sparse, and 2 to 5 seconds are generally better for more energetic displays.
Being up close to the action isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes finding nearby hills or mountains with a clear view of fireworks over water can lead to stunning results, and less of a crush on the ride home.
But then you’d miss the festival atmosphere… and the food.
Accept that on the walk home the roads will become a quagmire of bike-wheeling, inflatable toy toting children towing, cigarette smoking mass of humanity. Despite the heat and the hassle, there is nothing quite as fantastic as watching the Japanese summer night sky come alight with fire and noise.