How to Photograph Fireworks

Unless you live next to Epcot, fireworks are probably not an everyday occurrence.  Photographing them isn’t very difficult if you’re prepared, so given the holiday and your likely proximity to some explosions – I thought this tutorial would be timely.

1.) Get there early: You’ll want to scope out a location to shoot from while it’s still light out.  Ideally, position yourself on higher ground and up wind.  If you’re downwind, the smoke will be in front of the fireworks.  I try to position myself away from crowds as well.  The constant shutter noise and LCD display can be annoying to others.

2.) Bring a tripod: There’s really no way around this one – you’ll be leaving the shutter open far too long to hand hold, and trying to stabilize the camera on the ground won’t work well.. Go pick up a tripod if you don’t already have one.

3.) Camera Remote: Pushing the shutter button on the camera moves it enough to create a blur.  One way around this is a wired or wireless shutter release.  If these are not available for your camera, use the 2-second shutter timer.  Much like the 10 second timer (often used so the photographer can be in the group shot), the 2 second timer will delay the shutter just enough for the camera to stop shaking, helping you to get a sharper image.  You should have the flash turned off.

4.) Lens Selection: Typically speaking, you’ll want the widest lens in your bag – especially if you’re close.  You want to be able to capture the entire portion of the sky that the firework is taking up.  This usually means a lens in the 10-28mm range.  If you don’t have that range, you can always shoot from further away.  But feel free to experiment with a longer lens to capture a zoomed in shot of just the explosions.

5.) Camera Settings: Shift your camera into Manual Mode (M on the dial).  Select an aperture between f8 & f16.  Keep your ISO between 100 -200.  As for the shutter speed, this is what you’ll be experimenting with during the first dozen shots or so.  If you have a remote, you can turn the shutter speed up to bulb and simply push to open, then push to close.  If you don’t have this capability – start at 1 second and move up from there until you’re getting  good color saturation.  The longer the shutter stays open, the more blue your sky will be.  Shorter shutters allow for a black backdrop.

6.) Focus: This can be tricky, since its probalby too dark for the camera to grab a reliable focus point.  A bit of trial and error is often necessary – but when you lock it in, just be sure to turn the auto-focus off.  This will keep the camera from trying to refocus.

7.) Take a lot of pictures! You should essentially be taking photos non-stop during the fireworks show.  Getting a great picture always involves a bit of luck here, so play the numbers game and go home with a lot to choose from.

8.) Select your best – Download the pictures to the computer and choose your best 5.  I promise that no one wants to see all  387 shots you took.  Just get the best of the bunch and share them.

If you get the hang of this quickly or plan to hit more than one show this weekend, you can up your game with a few of these advanced techniques:

– Re-frame your shot using  landscape vs. portrait by turning the camera on its side (just try to keep your horizons straight)

– Incorporate other objects like the people, statues or buildings

– Use a black piece of cardboard/foamcore to hold over the lens.  If the shutter is open, you can move the paper to let in the light for specific bursts and be able to layer a few on top of each other w/o over-exposing the rest of the image.

– Selectively expose your frame.  In the picture at the top of this post, I held my hand over the top half of the lens to block other fireworks, but to allow the light from them to illuminate the audience.  Try something similar!

It goes without saying, but try to have fun!  Don’t get stressed out – I always take a few minutes and just enjoy the fireworks w/o the camera running.

Have a great holiday!



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