7 Tips for Photographing Fireworks

by Marie Joabar

1.) FIND THE BEST LOCATION

Fireworks photo by Marie Joabar
  •  Take some time before the fireworks to scout out a good spot to shoot from.
  • Since it’s best to photograph fireworks using a tripod, think about where you can position yourself with enough room for this.
  • Look around the area for any landmarks you might want to include in your photos; an iconic statue or monument, people watching the display, etc.
  • One of the most popular displays in our area is the Fireworks on the National Mall on July 4th. Many communities offer their own firework displays. Check out yours to see if they offer any.

2.) EXPOSURE SETTINGS

  • Fireworks require long exposure times but the key is to capture the intensely bright streaks of light without washing out the vivid color they display.
  • Use the camera’s Manual Mode – Set your ISO to 200 or 400, adjust your aperture between ƒ/8 and 11 and the shutter to between ¼ second to 1 second as a starting point. Take a shot and adjust these if necessary.
  • If the bursts are washed out, take away some light by setting a smaller aperture (f16) or using a faster shutter speed.
  • To get multiple bursts in one exposure, get some black foam core or cloth and using the Bulb setting*, begin the exposure when the fireworks start with the foam core or cloth in front of the lens. Each time a burst is fired, move the foam core or cloth out of the way for a quick second or two to capture it. You’ll end up with a frame filled with several colorful bursts!
  • With Bulb, the shutter remains open as long as you keep the shutter button depressed.

Single bursts
•    ISO – 200 or 400
•    Aperture f8 to f11
•    Shutter to ¼ second to 1 second
•    If too bright, use a faster shutter speed

Multiple Bursts
•    ISO – 200 or 4200
•    Aperture f8 to f11
•    Try 2 to 6 seconds

Multiple Bursts w Bulb
•    ISO – 200 or 400
•    Aperture f8 to f11
•    Shutter set to BULB
•    Cover lens between bursts with black cloth or foam core


3.) USE A TRIPOD

  • Mounting your camera on a sturdy tripod is especially important because of the long exposure time. If you don’t have a tripod, try placing your camera on a solid platform, such as a fence post, a railing, or the top of your car. This will give you sharper images than if you try to hand hold. Depressing the shutter button can cause the camera to vibrate so use a cable release or the camera’s self timer.

4.) FOCUS

  • Since it’s difficult for cameras to find focus in the dark, try setting the focus to infinity, then turn off the Auto Focus. Once it’s set, you shouldn’t need to re-focus for each shot.
  • If you have foreground elements, focus on those.

5.) COMPOSITION

  • Take photos both horizontally and vertically.
  • Try composing images with foreground elements and multiple bursts in a horizontal frame. Long, narrow bursts look great in with a vertical frame.
  • Make the most of the first few explosions. Fireworks leave behind smoke and by time the display is half way through, the smoke will be visible and will probably show in your photos.

6.) BE READY

  • Fireworks displays usually only last about 20 minutes so make sure you’re ready when they start.
  • It’s helpful to set up your camera as much as you can ahead of time and then make some final adjustments as needed when the fireworks go off.  Since you are going to be shooting at night in the dark, a small flashlight can be helpful.

7.) EDIT YOUR PHOTOS

Depending on your composition, you may find your foreground too dark or your bursts slightly washed out. Most fireworks images will benefit from some minor editing in Lightroom. 

Here are adjustments to try; 

  • Add exposure or perhaps raise the shadows to brighten the foreground
  • Take down the highlights to make the bursts more colorful
  • Adjust White Balance to taste. Try pushing the slider toward the blue to get some color in the sky.
  • Adjust Vibrance or Saturation if needed
  • Dehaze can help remove smoke from the fireworks and can also add nice contrast