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Taking Pictures of Fireworks...How to Photograph Fireworks

 Fireworks 1Camera Settings:15 seconds--F/36--ISO 200--500mmIf you have been taking pictures very long chances are you have tried taking pictures of fireworks.

If so, how did those pictures turn out?  Were you happy with them?

Taking pictures of fireworks can be challenging and fun which is probably why they are such a popluar subject for photographers. Yet with a few basic tips and some practice you can learn to improve your fireworks photos and capture the mood of whatever festive celebration they are a part of.

I will be covering several different subjects related to improving your fireworks photos. I have tried to organize these in sections so it easy for you to quickly find and read the most relavent information for you.

You can click on one of the links below to go directly to that section or simply continue to read each section in order.

Five tips to improve your fireworks photos.

What equipment is needed for fireworks photography?

What are the best camera settings for fireworks photography?

The importance of timing in getting good photos of fireworks.

What about using flash when taking pictures of fireworks?

Additional resources for learning to take fireworks photos.

Share your favorite fireworks photo with us!

Five Tips For Taking Great Pictures of Fireworks

Tip #1 for taking pictures of fireworks is to arrive early--If you will be photographing a large public fireworks display try and arrive early in order to “scout out” the best location so you can have an unobstructed view of the display as well as a pleasing foreground and background for your photos.

When choosing a location to take fireworks photos from be aware of street lights as well as lights from buildings or houses as they can negatively affect your image.

Arriving early allows you to get your tripod and camera setup before it gets dark. If you are going to take pictures in manual mode it is a lot easier to set your focus and get you camera setup while there is still light. Setting your camera settings early also allows you to quickly fine tune your settings after the sun goes down so only minor adjustments are needed once the fireworks start exploding. 

Fourth of July Celebration 5Fourth of July Celebration 2

Tip # 2 for taking pictures of fireworks is to tell a story--When photographing a Fourth of July Celebration or some other fireworks display go beyond simply trying to capture pictures of the fireworks and become a story teller.

What do I mean by that?  Simply that there is much more to photograph during these times than the fireworks themselves.

In order to capture the mood and fun of the celebration expand your subject matter and try to capture photographs that will “tell the whole story of the celebration”. For 4th of July family gatherings that can involve pictures of the people attending the party, the food that was prepared, fun and games before the fireworks and of course the fireworks themselves. For larger celebrations like a city-wide fireworks display the same basic principles apply. Try to get enough pictures of the surroundings and the people that you end up with a series of photos that really capture the fun and mood of that special time of celebration.

Fourth of July CelebrationCamera Settings:1/60 second--F/5.6--ISO 800--45mm

Tip # 3 for taking pictures of fireworks is to include people in your photos—be sure to include people in some of your photos. At a family gathering be sure to take some pictures of the younger kids shooting off the smaller fireworks or enjoying the festive celebration. Also take pictures of the other family members enjoying watching the fireworks display.

Whether it is a small family gathering or a large city wide firework display try to capture some photos of the audience as the display is going on. If possible you should try to capture some photos of the audience’s faces as they watch the fireworks. The bright and colorful lights of the fireworks reflecting off of the people’s faces can really make for a great photo that captures the mood of this fun and festive time.

Another good fireworks photo opportunity is if you can get a low enough angle to capture the audience’s silhouettes highlighted against the night sky as it is lit up by the fireworks.

Tip # 4 for taking pictures of fireworks is to experiment with different shutter speeds, camera settings and focal lengths—Using the fastest possible shutter speed with allow you to capture the fireworks in a different way than a longer exposure. Experimenting with different camera settings and focal lengths can help you capture a variety of firework photos.

While many fireworks pictures are taken with shutter speeds of 1/8 second to several seconds you can also zoom in on the fireworks and use a faster shutter speed like the picture below.

Zooming in on the fireworks will allow you to fill the frame with the colorful explosions but a wider angle and longer exposure will be needed in order to capture photos that tell the whole story. With a wider angle lens and a longer exposure, often several seconds, you can capture the whole scene including the surroundings as well as the exploding fireworks. Using a good tripod and even a cable release is key to avoiding any motion blur on your longer exposures.

 

Fireworks 5Camera Settings:1/320 second--F/7.1---ISO 1600---75mm

Tip #5 for taking pictures of fireworks is to look for reflections—Fireworks as are other nighttime lights can look spectacular when captured in a reflection. Look for things that can show the reflection of the fireworks. If the fireworks are close to a lake or river try and get some pictures that show the fireworks and their reflection in the water. Windows, glasses, etc. all can reflect the beautiful colors and lights of the fireworks display.  Look for and even setup those types of opportunities to really capture a stunning image. Use the reflection off of some ones glasses to capture the fireworks from another angle.

The Right Equipment for Taking Pictures of Fireworks

Fireworks 2Camera Settings: 1/3 second--F/2.8--ISO 200--200mm

What kind of camera is best for taking photos of fireworks?

A DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera are the best choice of cameras for taking pictures of fireworks.

However if you don’t own one with the proper technique you can still capture some good fireworks photos with your point and shoot or super zoom digital camera.

What type of lens is needed to take pictures of fireworks?

The lens you will use for fireworks photography will depend upon the type of fireworks display and how close you are to it. In many cases the typical lens that will go from around 18mm to 70mm will work well for the general “landscape” type of photos. However if you want to be able to zoom in on some firework explosions then will likely need a longer zoom possibly as high as 300mm.

Unlike some low-light photography taking pictures of fireworks does not require a really fast lens. Normally your consumer zooms can do more than an adequate job without the need for more expensive “professional” lenses.

A good tripod is essential for taking pictures of fireworks.

One important piece of equipment for photographing fireworks is a solid and stable tripod. The tripod needs to be able to securely hold the weight of your camera and lens combination. If you have a smaller and lighter camera you might be able to get away with using one of the low-priced tripods you see in discount stores. However for DSLR owners you should invest in a good heavy duty tripod designed to handle that size of camera. Investing in a good, high quality tripod is important for the serious photographer.

A remote shutter release helps when taking pictures of fireworks

A remote release for the camera is very helpful to avoid any camera movement that could occur when manually pressing the shutter button. Whether it is an inexpensive cable shutter release or a remote control, being able to remotely activate the shutter is important when trying to minimize any camera movement on long exposure photos.

A small flashlight can come in handy when taking pictures of fireworks

A good item to have in your camera bag for nighttime photography is a small flashlight. This will prove to be invaluable when making adjustments and changing batteries or memory cards at night. Another use for the flashlight is to selectively light someone or something in the foreground when doing a longer exposure. The light from the flashlight can help bring out some detail in a foreground object and has other creative uses in low light and night time photography.

 

Camera Settings For Taking Pictures of Fireworks

Fireworks 6Camera Settings:1/8 second--F/18--ISO 800--500mm

I recommend taking pictures of fireworks either using one of the semi-automatic camera modes like aperture priority or going to a full manual mode.

These modes will give you more control over the cameras exposure and allow you to change you camera settings as needed. Using a lower aperture setting will allow the maximum amount of light to reach the image sensor and result in brighter fireworks.

Many if not most photographers recommend using manual mode and manual focus when photographing fireworks.

If you are using manual focus try to arrive early enough so you can manually set the focus while it is still daylight. That will be much easier than trying to manually focus on a dark sky or after the fireworks have already started going off. 

How to get the right exposure when taking pictures of fireworks.

When it comes to what exposure settings to use for fireworks there really is no hard and fast rule or “right” answer. Too many variables come into play which is why you need to be prepared to do some quick adjustments as needed once the fireworks start.

A good starting point for many situations is to select a lower ISO speed such as 100-200 ISO. Remember the lower the ISO the less digital noise you will have. With a low ISO you will need a longer shutter speed. Depending on conditions your shutter speed could range from between 1/8 of a second up to 10 to 15 seconds.


The ideal combination is a low ISO to reduce digital noise, a smaller aperture such as F/16 to increase depth of field and a several second shutter speed to get good exposure. Of course there are many different combinations of ISO, aperture and shutter speed that can be used, so the best thing to do is experiment and find the best combination for your setting and to capture the “mood” you are trying to capture.

A good range of F/stops for fireworks photography is from F/8 to F/16.  These are often within the “sweet spot” of most lenses as far as sharpness and will generally give the depth of field desired for fireworks photography. If need be you can always bump the ISO up to 400 or even 800 but generally the lower the ISO the better off you will.

After taking the first fireworks photos of the night quickly check your histogram to see what if any changes might be able to improve the exposure. Once you have tweaked your settings try to avoid the temptation to view each photograph you just captured. If you are constantly checking your photos on the LCD screen you will likely miss out on some of the fireworks. Monitor the exposure at different times during the fireworks display but spend most of your time taking pictures and less time viewing them.

Fireworks 7Camera Settings: 10 second--F/13--200 ISO--230mmIf you camera has a "blub" setting using that setting will allow you to keep the shutter open as long as is necessary. When using the “bulb” mode you should use some type of remote release to help eliminate camera movement when pressing the shutter button. By using the bulb mode instead of a set shutter speed you can capture the whole fireworks explosion from launch until the last of the trailing embers die off. Most DSLR's have a "bulb setting and using it is the best way for you to anticipate the action and capture the fireworks at the peak of the burst. In bulb mode you can start the exposure in anticipation of the fireworks explosion and stop the exposure after it is over. Keep in mind that with longer shutter speeds you will likely need to adjust your ISO and aperture to keep from over or under exposing the photo.

Tips to avoid over exposing an image when using longer shutter speeds.

In order to capture multiple bursts of fireworks in a single exposure you will need to leave the shutter open for several seconds. This can result in the foreground becoming too bright. An easy solution to that is to have a piece of black paper that you can put in front of the lens to prevent light from entering the camera between the different firework bursts. This technique is also useful when you want to capture multiple fireworks burst in a single exposure without the light trails. Of course you need to be sure and not move the camera when covering the lens.

Another tip to help eliminate any camera movement is to lock the mirror in the up position if you are using a DSLR that has that feature. Locking the mirror will help to avoid the small amount of vibration that might happen when the mirror is activated during the start and end of the exposure. While this vibration is generally minimal and often has no noticeable effect on image quality locking it up is a sure why to eliminate even the smallest amount of camera movement that could affect image sharpness.

Timing the Shot is Important When Taking Pictures of Fireworks

The hardest part of fireworks photography is timing and framing the shot when you are trying to capture the firework at its most colorful point. Not only do you not know exactly where the explosion will occur but you also do not know exactly when it will happen. Because of that it is best to shoot a little “looser” or in other words allow some space around the area you anticipate the explosion so you capture it. After all you can always crop the photo later for a “tighter” shot. The more you take fireworks photos the better you will become at anticipating the explosion and you ratio of “keeper” photos will increase.

Fireworks 4Camera Settings: 1/8 second--F/2.8--200 ISO--6mm


Fireworks are a great subject to photograph. They can make for some spectacular photographs and the creative Photoshop editor can have lots of fun using fireworks photos in different creative projects. They can make for interesting backgrounds for sports photos, invitations, cards, etc. as well as be useful in creating different types of “digital art” or to spice up an otherwise boring city skyline.

Is There Any Reason to Use Flash When Taking Pictures of Fireworks?

Normally you would not use flash when photographing fireworks but there can be some exceptions to that rule. If you have an interesting foreground object such as a person or a statute and you want them to be properly exposed you can use your camera’s flash to help illuminate them while still capturing the fireworks in the background. As with other scenarios you might need to experiment with your camera settings to get the right exposure but this technique can produce some very stunning photographs in the right settings.

Additional Resources for Learning to Take Pictures of Fireworks

A great low cost E-Book covering how to take pictures of fireworks and other types of Night Photography is Jim Hammer’s affordable book “Improve Your Night Photography”. Available for purchase in a variety of E-Book formats this can be purchased from  SmashWords E-Book Store.

Tags: Digital Photography Photography Tips