Shanghai fireworks – photo-essay and tutorial

The fourth day of the Chinese New Year, the God of Fortune is coming down from heaven to the earth. That is why Chinese people tend to have a lot of fireworks on this day. They believe if the God of Fortune likes the fireworks, he will help them to get rich during the year. All people want to be rich in China. We know that; they want it pretty badly. But who doesn’t, right?

By coincidence, it was the same day my wife and I had a wedding anniversary. So we decided to celebrate in style. We rented a room in a Shangri-La hotel in the Jing’an district, Shanghai. They have amazing corner rooms with both walls made of glass. Our room was on the 40th floor, but they have some even up to the 56th floor. Just amazing, nothing more to say. And of course I brought all my equipment, since that was a great opportunity to take some firework pictures. We were watching fireworks from 11pm until 1am. I set up my camera with my newly bought intervalometer and I let it take pictures for three hours. This was the result.

Fireworks in Shanghai

For the photographic souls reading my blog, here is a small behind the scenes:

I put my camera on a tripod. I set up a 7 second exposure and an interval of 10 seconds between the shots. F-stop was F14 and ISO 100. Maybe I could have lowered my F-stop because the window was a little bit dirty, and I had to retouch it. You can still see it in some shots. But I wanted to have those little stars inside the streetlights. I also took a brighter exposure before the fireworks started. I knew that it would be impossible to have a properly exposured city and all the fireworks as well. That is why my first picture of the city was much brighter, F9 and 30 seconds exposure, ISO100. Then the 7 second exposure with F14 was for the fireworks. Seven seconds is just about right to have nice, colourful firework trails without burning them out of the picture. The real problem was the reflections in the window. We switched all the lights out in the room and I had to make a special what-you-can-find-in-the-room antireflection cover for my camera. I put the floor lamp next to the camera, just above it, so it made a hanger for the cover. Then I took a blanket, put it on the lamp and covered my camera. I also lowered the curtains as low as possible. No reflections, but iIt was not possible to see the display of my camera, so I was just hoping I didn’t move my focus ring when manipulating it. I was on manual focus; it is not a good idea to use automatic focus during a time-lapse.


Over the span of three hours, my camera took 500+ pictures, then I chose 249 with good looking fireworks. I made some basic adjustments in Lightroom, imported them all into Photoshop as layers and chose the blending mode to lighten. Then I put my light exposure of the city on the top and did the same. The basic picture appeared in front of me. But there were way too many fireworks, so I started to switch off some layers. Now when I look at it, I should have switched off more. But after I finished every picture, I always flattened the image. For me the picture is done, and I want to move on to the next one. It also saves a lot of space and it makes the next post processing easier. I made some adjustments with NIK plugins, played with the blending modes for a while…

I wasn’t finished with just one picture. I stayed up all night and trying to take shots from various angles. I had my Samsung NX300 with a basic 18-55 Samsung lens and one Canon 55-250mm lens with an adapter ring. It was really difficult to focus during the night with the Canon lens, so I missed few shots. I stayed up all night until 5 am. But you really cannot blame me. The view was just amazing. Amazing amazing amazing! There is nothing more to say; I am attaching a gallery of a few images I took that night. I hope you will like it. I like some of these pictures even more than the firework shots.

Shanghai from above

Shanghai from above

Shanghai from above