Photographing fireworks is a little tricky. It takes some trial and error to get your settings right, but by the time you figure it all out, the show might be over. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can make the difference between blurry shots and fireworks photos that make viewers ooh and aah. Use this guide to prepare for your next celebration or festival.
Get to your destination early enough to find a good viewing spot before the crowds arrive. Anticipate where fireworks will appear in the sky and move around to eliminate possible obstructions like trees or power lines. If you don’t know exactly where to go, ask other spectators where the fireworks usually burst. Make sure you have all the equipment you need and start thinking about the settings you’d like to use.
Most photographers watch fireworks from ground level. Change locations to get above the display. You might not be able to afford a chartered helicopter, but going up in a skyscraper or climbing up to the top of a hill can give you a viewing angle that others don’t usually see.
Think About Your Composition
Once you’ve chosen a good location for viewing the fireworks show, think about the composition you’d like to capture. How will you make your photos interesting? As with any photography, you’ll want to include objects or people of interest in some of your shots to avoid bland compositions. Try including a city skyline or spectators in your images. Or, zoom in to capture small details of individual fireworks.
Zooming into a small part of a firework gives a more abstract perspective to your fireworks photos.
Turn Off the Flash
Before choosing any other camera settings, make sure to disable your flash. A flash will only illuminate items that are a short distance in front of you, and it will most likely annoy other spectators.
Put the Camera on a Tripod
Unless you’re doing experiments to create squiggly lines and intentional blurring, you’ll want your camera stabilized on a tripod. You’ll be using long exposure times, so hand-holding your camera is probably not a good option. Use the built-in self-timer or a remote to trigger the shutter without jostling the camera.
Occasionally, you’ll want to intentionally move your camera for creative shots like this one, but more often than not, you’ll want to keep your camera as still as possible when taking pictures of fireworks.
Use Manual Mode
If your camera is in auto exposure mode, it’s going to choose settings to override the darkness in your scene. Switch to manual mode so you can set your exposure to leave the sky dark and use long shutter speeds that will capture fireworks bursting in the air. Manual focus will also help with getting the right spot in focus in dark conditions.
Using manual focus and a large aperture to create bokeh adds an interesting flavor to pictures of fireworks.
Choose a Low ISO
To reduce grain, keep your ISO to a low setting. Start at ISO 100 and only change it if it’s necessary for achieving your desired shutter speed.
Set the Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the most crucial setting when it comes to photographing fireworks. If the shutter speed is too fast, you’ll miss the best parts of the fireworks. If it’s too long, you risk overexposing the image. Two seconds is a good starting point for shutter speed. Check your results to see if the fireworks bursts are being captured how you’d like them, then adjust accordingly.
One trick that experienced photographers use is bulb exposure. For this, you’ll need a remote for your shutter. Open the shutter as you hear a firework being shot into the air. Then keep the shutter open until the firework has finished exploding.
Getting shutter speed just right results in breathtaking, luminous fireworks images.
Bring a Flashlight
A flashlight or headlamp is useful for adjusting your camera settings after dark. It will also assist with packing up after the show; you don’t want to leave any of your gear behind.
Go to as many fireworks shows as possible to gain lots of experience and to experiment with different settings.
You can practice with fireworks by photographing other illuminations at night. Practice with home fireworks, sparklers, or even glow sticks to get familiar with shutter speeds that properly expose lights against a dark sky.
If you don’t have a fireworks display happening near you, make your own show using sparklers or small home fireworks.
Planning ahead for photographing fireworks displays lets you maximize your time experimenting during the show. The less you have to troubleshoot, fiddle with settings, and change location, the more you’ll have time to get awesome photos of beautiful bursts of light.