How to photograph fireworks

How to Photograph Fireworks

Who doesn’t love fireworks? They are colorful, beautiful to watch, and they are used to celebrate different occasions. What’s not to like about them. I don’t photograph fireworks often, not only because they are challenging to capture, but I prefer to enjoy the moment. I don’t want to worry about how the pictures will come out or to keep checking the LCD screen of the camera. While I strongly encourage you to do the same, I put together a list of tips and steps you need to follow in case you decide to photograph fireworks during the next celebration.

1. Use a Tripod

While I am not a big fan of carrying my tripod around, when photographing fireworks a tripod is a must-have. You will be dealing with extremely low light and you will be using long exposures; handholding your camera will not work.

2. Use a Remote Release

Since you want to minimize any camera shake, I recommend using a remote to release the shutter. If you don’t have a remote, you can use the delay release timer of your camera. On my camera I can use a 2 sec. or 10 sec. delay. When photographing fireworks I prefer using the 2 sec. timer because I want to capture as many shots as possible.

3. Turn off the Flash, Image Stabilization, and Autofocus

The flash will not help you at all, so if you do have one on your camera, make sure to turn it off. If your lens has an Image Stabilization function, you should also turn it off. Since you are using a tripod, it is not going to help and it may actually introduce some unwanted blur. Your camera may have a hard time focusing in the dark, so you should turn the autofocus off and focus manually.

Picture of fireworks

3.2 sec at f/8, ISO 125

4. Set Your Camera to Manual Mode

I know this may sound a little scary. I don’t use Manual mode often, but when photographing fireworks displays I highly recommend using it because you need full control of both the aperture and shutter speed.

5. Set the ISO

Use an ISO no greater than 200. This way you will have minimal digital noise in your pictures.

6. Set the Shutter Speed

I typically start with a shutter speed of 2 seconds and if the images are too dark, I lower the speed. The slower the speed, the longer the light trails of the fireworks and the brighter the shot will be.

7. Set the Aperture

Most photographers believe that they need the widest aperture possible because they are dealing with low light conditions. In fact, the opposite is true. If you use an f 2.8 for example you risk having overexposed images. I like starting with an aperture of f/8 and if the shots seem washed out, I change it to f/11 or f/13. If the shots look too dim, I change the aperture to f/5.6 or f/4.

8. Frame Your Shot and Choose the Focal Length
How to photograph fireworks. Picture of fireworks

3.2 sec at f/8, ISO 125

I recommend arriving a few minutes early to find a good spot and set up your camera without being rushed. This also gives you an opportunity to frame your shots. The basic composition rules of photography still apply. Feel free to zoom in and take some tight shots as well.

Make sure to start shooting as soon as the fireworks start. The first shots will be sharpest because there is less smoke. And take as many as you can. This way you can be sure that you will end up with a few good ones.

Now it’s your turn. Give it a go. Happy fireworks shooting!

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photography, now available at Amazon.

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