Photographing fireworks tips

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How to Photograph Fireworks

Getting great shots of these pyrotechnic displays is not as hard as you think.

Photographing fireworks can be challenging but it’s not impossible. Here we share tips and tricks for taking the guesswork out of shooting this nighttime event, and getting inspired to capture your own unique perspective.

Photographing fireworks tips
Photograph by Paul Sutherland

Turn off your flash and set your camera to manual mode.

This allows you to control the exposure and aperture yourself. A good starting place for your settings is ISO 100, f/11, at 1/2 second. If the photos are looking too dim, vary the shutter speed while keeping the aperture the same.

Arrive early to scout out your location and choose your vantage point.

Before the show begins, think about the foreground and background elements of the scene and how you might want to incorporate them. Manually set the focus for your scene before it gets dark. Focus on an area of sky where the fireworks will be, or on an object the same distance away. Once the fireworks start, you’ll be ready to start shooting.

Photographing fireworks tips
Photograph by Richard Olsenius
Photographing fireworks tips
Photograph by Joel Sartore

The long exposures required for firework photography mean slow shutter speeds.

Keep your camera motionless by using a sturdy tripod and a shutter release cord. When shooting a scene that includes not just the sky but also other elements like a cityscape, keeping the horizon line straight is particularly important. Make sure your camera is level on the tripod.

Try varying your shots.

The focal length you need depends on your distance from the burst and what you’re trying to capture. If you want a tight shot that shows detail, you will want to use a zoom lens that goes to at least 200mm. Keep in mind that changing focal length will require refocusing in most zoom lenses. Check for this attribute before the show begins, while it is still light.

A great way to capture action at the peak of the burst is to shoot in bulb mode.

This allows you to create timed exposures based on changing conditions. You will want to use a type of remote shutter release to avoid touching the camera. Hit the shutter as the firework is launching and hold it down until the burst has faded, typically a few seconds.

Photograph by Diane Cook, Len Jenshel

Choose a vantage point upwind from the blowing smoke.

This makes for more comfortable shooting conditions, and from the right vantage point, the reflective quality of the smoke can add an element of interest to the shot.

Tell the full story of the event by capturing what else is happening around you.

When people are the main subject of your shot, expose for the faces, rather than the light source, to avoid fooling the light meter.

By NGS

See also: Architectural Photography Tips

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