How To Photograph Fireworks

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Well, my friends in the U.S., it’s that time of year again! Time for the nearly-obligatory post about how to photograph fireworks for your 4th of July celebration.

1. Location. It’s important to get to your location early so you can scout out a vantage point with uninterrupted views. I personally like to be up above and behind the crowd, so I can get shots of them highlighted in the glow of the fireworks display.

2. Gear. Bring a tripod and a remote shutter release to completely minimize vibration and shakiness. I prefer a wide angle lens to get overall shots, but you may prefer a telephoto lens to completely fill the frame with bursting light.

3. Aperture and ISO. Use an aperture that will bring the entire scene into focus, such as between f/8 and f/16. Resist the urge to crank up the ISO just because it’s dark outside – the light from the fireworks renders a high ISO unnecessary, so keep it around 200.

4. Shutter speed. This requires a bit of trial and error. You want to use a shutter speed that is long enough to catch the trails of light as the fireworks burst, but not so long as to overexpose the light from the fireworks. The “bulb” setting works well for this – simply press the shutter release right as the firework is about to explode, hold it down until it’s finished exploding, then release. This might take a bit of practice to get it right. Alternately, try setting the shutter speed to around five seconds and see if that gets you the level of exposure that you’d like.

5. Turn off auto-focus. Most DSLR’s will have a bit of a hard time focusing in dim light, so use the first few bursts to set the focus manually, then you can leave it alone for the rest of the display (unless you change positions or focal length).

6. Try light painting! There’s usually plenty of sparklers around, so to put a different spin on the images of the celebration, try your hand at light painting. With your camera on the tripod (in a dark area), set your shutter speed to between 10 and 30 seconds, ISO around 200, aperture between f/8 and f/16. Focus manually on the backdrop. Press the shutter, hop in front of the camera (or use a timer delay to give you a chance to get into position), and use the sparkler to “paint” words, designs, and shapes. The long exposure will translate the painting as uninterrupted streams of light in the image. Use trial and error to set the shutter speed correctly for your intended image.

Have fun, be safe, and show us some of your images in the Flickr Group or Facebook page!

Photo credit: Bayasaa on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Jim Martin

    Nice post, Tiffany! I would add one bit of advice, based on the New Year’s Eve firework displays I’ve photographed here in Germany over the past few years. If there are a lot of rockets going off all over the place, the sky will get smokey after about 10 minutes. After that you can forget capturing good shots; they’ll all look like you’re at a rock concert with dry ice in the air. So do your light metering early and take a lot of shots at the beginning.