Taking Better Fireworks Photos

It happens to you every year. You bring your camera to the fireworks and take some pictures only to be disappointed with the results. Taking good fireworks photos isn’t hard but there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

  1. First and foremost, you need to find a good location and get a feel for the composition you want to capture. Include a beautiful skyline in your images or just zoom in so the sky is your main background.
  2. Once you find your location, find a safe and secure area to set up your tripod. Timing is also important, as you will find that the best images to take are at the beginning of the show, before the sky fills up with smoke.
  3. Set the camera lens to “Manual Focus” and adjust it to “Infinite Focus”. Set you Camera Mode to “M” and adjust the Shutter Speed to be between 2 and 10 seconds. In addition, set the Aperture to around f/11 and the ISO to 200. A wider aperture makes for bigger, brighter streaks, but can be blown out, while smaller apertures make for tight and colorful bursts.
  4. Use your cable release to fire the camera immediately following the rocket’s launch. You can shoot in either JPEG or RAW, but RAW files will let you better adjust the exposure afterwards in software to get your ideal image. If you are using a Point and Shoot camera, see if there is a “Fireworks Scene” mode.
  5. Take a test shot and adjust your Shutter Speed to get your desired effect.

You can also experiment using the “Bulb” setting, for those DLSRs that include it. If you cannot find the “Bulb” setting in your Mode Dial, set your camera to “Manual Mode” (M) and slow the shutter speed all the way down to make the Bulb (B) appear; this forces the shutter to remain open for as long as you leave the shutter release open. Set your Aperture between f/8 and f/16 and your ISO at around 200. If you want to brighten your pictures, raise the ISO to 400 or so, or adjust the f/stop to change the look of the firework trails. Open the shutter when you hear the rockets fire and close it when the burst is over.

If you want to capture multiple “bursts” in a single frame, a fun trick is to leave the shutter open for a long period of time and control the exposure manually with a HAT. Lock the shutter open and keep the lens covered with a hat. When you see the rocket launch, remove the hat until the burst is complete; then re-cover with the hat. You can repeat this multiple times and then use the cable release to close the shutter and end the exposure. This technique, along with all longer shutter speed techniques, is best when there is very minimal ambient light. If you are near street lights, or if there are other bright objects in your frame, your photos may become too blown out during these long exposures.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the show! Take a few test shots to nail down the settings & technique you want to use, then sit back and enjoy the show, while you control your camera remotely. You know the technique, now try it for yourself.

What You Will Need:

  • A Camera That Allows You to Shoot in “Manual (M)” or “Bulb (B)”
  • A Tripod to Stabilize Your Shot
  • A Cable Release / Wireless Remote to Trigger Your Camera
    (If You Do Not Have One, Use the Self Timer Function)
  • Plenty of Memory Cards and Charged Batteries

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