How to Photograph Fireworks

Regardless of the season or the location, a digital photographer may find the opportunity for photographing fireworks. This can be a somewhat tricky scenario to record with a camera, but with a basic understanding of the right settings (and a few extra techniques) some remarkable results are guaranteed.

So, the first step is to use your tripod. If this is not possible, then use a firm window ledge or any other solid base that will allow you to hold the shutter open for a lengthier period of time without the risk of camera shake or blur. The most assured approach to an entirely blur-free experience, however, comes from the perfect combination of tripod and remote release. This is a hands free way to trigger the shutter and ensures that nothing will ruin the shot.

Now that you have the camera set up and ready to click away, what sort of settings do you use? Well, that first requires you to frame the shot, and this means you have to assess the setting and your position in it. For example, if you are in a skyscraper overlooking the New York Harbor you will want to frame the water and the entire setting in the viewfinder. If, however, you are at a random display in your hometown and simply seated on a hillside beneath the display, you may want to choose a wide focal length that will take in as much of each explosion overhead as possible.

Now, about those explosions; they are brilliant bursts of light and this means that you are going to have to consider how much of that light enters the lens while the shutter is open. This is done via your aperture setting, and since you are using a wider focal length and desire crisp clarity you will need to keep the aperture relatively small or somewhere in the area of f/8 to f/16 for the sharpest and most successful results.

Along with the amount of light entering the lens, you will have to determine how long that light is allowed to enter the lens and remain on the camera sensor. This is called your shutter speed, as you are probably well aware, and you will have to decide if you want to freeze the fireworks in motion, or if you will permit a tiny bit of trailing to make the image more abstract. Either way, most photographers will do one of two things – use the “bulb” setting and manually trigger their remote release just as the fireworks “pop” and then close the shutter the second that the firework fades. While others use a range of long shutter speeds to test results.

A few final pointers include keeping your ISO around the 100 – 200 range to prevent “noise” in the printed images. Also remember the human element of the display and aim your camera at the crowd watching the fireworks for some great candid portrait photography too.

Article by Amy Renfrey


8 comments on “How to Photograph Fireworks

  1. Good article Amy – thanks.

    You can also get some spectacular effects with a bit of wobble.

    It can thicken up tracers from fireworks and make them wobble around in a really interesting way.

    While not an accurate record of the fireworks, they are still fun to take and can look pretty handy too.

    You can see some fireworks photos taken this way here if you’re interested.

    I enjoyed taking pictures at Heyshott Fireworks in Sussex last year and am really looking forward to November 5th this year too.

  2. I had to explain to a supposedly experienced and professional photographer I used to work with how to go about shooting fireworks before he went on a job that required him to do just that. Off he went with tripod with tripod over his shoulder and digital cable release in his pocket. Back he came a few hours later with blurriest images of fireworks I have ever seen! I could have done a better job hand held! Turns out he had set his tripod up on the floating pontoon at the local marina!
    I kid you not!

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