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How to capture the best shots on bonfire night

As autumn days get shorter, it can start to feel as if your photographic options are shrinking. But in fact there are plenty of exciting opportunities for night-time photography which can yield impressive results.

Bonfire night offers the perfect challenge, as the skies are illuminated with the stunning colours and patterns of fireworks from public displays. Capturing these lights at their best can be tricky, so here's how to get superb shots that are sure to impress.

Choosing the right camera equipment

Although you can achieve pleasing firework shots with a compact camera, an interchangeable lens camera offers greater flexibility. Typically, these also have much larger sensors - handy when shooting in the low-light environment of a firework display.

The Canon EOS 200D is a perfect buy for beginners. It's the world's smallest and lightest DSLR to feature an articulating screen, which can prove very useful for firework displays. If you can stretch the budget a little further, mid-range cameras such as the Nikon D7500 or the Canon EOS 7D Mark II are fantastic all-rounders, and both have adjustable screens.

Alternatively, the latest Olympus cameras, such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, offer an innovative featured called Live Time which allows you to stop long exposures precisely at the moment they've captured the shot you want.

When it comes to lenses, you need the flexibility to change your composition quickly, so pairing a wide-angle zoom lens (24-70mm) and a telephoto zoom lens (70-200mm or 70-300mm) should see you covered for most situations. Remember, if you're working with a Four Thirds camera, such as Olympus, look for focal lengths of 12-35mm and 35-100mm because of the 'crop factor' associated with the smaller sensor.

A tripod is essential for firework photography, since you'll be using long shutter speeds (more on that later). The Manfrotto 055XPRO 3-section Aluminium tripod is a sturdy and stable model.

A remote release, either cabled or wireless, is extremely useful as it means you won't need to touch the camera and risk any extra shake. And pack an extra battery - shooting in the cold can reduce battery life, and capturing long exposures is power intensive.

What are the best settings?

Shooting early on in a firework display gives you the opportunity to adjust your composition and camera settings. It also means the sky is clearer of the smoke which quickly builds up as the fireworks are lit.

For this kind of photography, it's best to shoot in manual mode, allowing you to take control of all the key camera settings of ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

In terms of sensitivity, aim for ISO 100 or ISO 200. If your camera offers the option, turn off long exposure noise reduction, as well as image stabilisation, both of which can work against you when shooting with a tripod.

For aperture, aim for between f/5.6 and f/8 to capture a rich amount of detail. Start out with a shutter speed of between five and 10 seconds, expanding or reducing the shutter-speed time depending on how your shots are turning out. Alternatively, shooting with Bulb mode means you can keep the shutter open until you've judged for yourself when to stop. This technique takes a bit of practice, but often yields the best results.

Working on your composition

You can be as creative as you like with firework photography. Carrying both wide and telephoto zoom lenses allows you to get different kinds of shots. For example you could try capturing the firework display over the heads of fascinating onlookers with a wide-angle, or use a telephoto lens to create colourful, close-up abstracts.

You'll probably find yourself composing and adjusting as you go along, but you can always crop afterwards in post-production - it's always better to shoot slightly wider than you need than risk missing the edges of a particularly shapely firework burst.

If you're feeling adventurous, why not have a go at a zoom burst shot? Set an exposure of a few seconds, zooming the lens during the exposure. The result may be wacky, but definitely more imaginative than your average firework shot.

We'd love to see your best firework shots! Share them with us via our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages to show off your skills.