How to Photograph Fireworks
The Fourth of July is right around the corner. I am always mesmerized by the amazing firework photos I see many photographers share on social media. But photographing fireworks is not as easy as you might think. In this post, I will share 5 easy tips to help you get better firework shots!
5 Tips for Photographing Fireworks
The firework images I was most excited about getting were those with beautifully clean, lovely trails of light cascading down in the darkness. I was fascinated, but my first few tries were definitely flops! When shooting fireworks, you often do not have much time to get it right, and some of us only get to see one firework show each year!
1. Use a Tripod
There is an amusement park sort fairly close to us that shows fireworks several times a year, so I decided it give it a try a couple of years ago. We pulled into a parking lot to watch, but that first time I didn’t have a tripod. Naïvely, I thought I might be able to shoot them without a tripod if I could find something to brace my camera on, like the hood of a car. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that a tripod is pretty crucial for photographing fireworks.
If you can’t use one, at the very least you need to set your camera down on a completely solid surface, and use either a remote or your camera’s timer (I set it at 2 seconds for this so I didn’t have to keep waiting for the longer delay). The timer or remote are important to to eliminate even the slight camera shake that might be caused by pressing and releasing the shutter button.
2. Find a Dark, Open Area to Shoot From
The other problem with my first try was our location - there was too much ambient light coming from the lights in the parking lot we were in, and we were also too close to trees.
Situating yourself in a darker area will work best, and trees need to be further away than you migh think. Fireworks are high up, of course, but even though the trees were about 100 yards away from us, at times they still blocked the action that was happening lower on the horizon and it still ruined many shots.
3. Use a Timer or Remote
That first night I learned a lot, but didn’t get anything I was thrilled with so we set out to try again on another night. This time we chose a different parking lot that was a bit closer to the action and was also darker and with no nearby trees, and we settled ourselves along the edge where the lights were minimal and all behind us. And this time I brought my tripod! I still used the 2-second timer to avoid even the slightest camera shake, but a remote would have been even better so I could actually control when the shutter was pressed, depending on what I wanted to capture.
When using a timer, you will have to try to predict the right moments including the 2-second delay - this will be hit or miss. I used the spray and pray method of shooting, meaning that I just kept hitting the shutter button constantly hoping to get images when the bursts were at their peak.
4. Fireworks Photography Settings & Camera Gear
After much trial and error, I set my ISO down to 100 (since your shutter speed will be very slow to catch the trails, you really need to use “fast film” so that your sky will stay nice and black), and then I closed up my aperture to 20 or 22 (partly to keep the depth of field great enough for everything to be sharp, and partly because again you need to restrict the amount of light that will affect the overall brightness of your images), depending on my shutter speed.
Then I took a shot and chimped (checked my exposure by looking at the image on the LCD), adjusting as needed. A zoom lens that can shoot wide angles (I used my Tamron 28-300 because it’s the widest lens I own) can be helpful too so you can zoom in and out depending on how much of the frame you want to fill and how big the show is, but if you don’t have a wide zoom, I’d take the widest lens you have.
For most of the images in this post I used a focal length of 28, an ISO of 100, shutter speed was set to 6 seconds, and the aperture f/20. (For the last image, I changed my aperture to f/22 and the shutter speed set to 10 seconds, so I could try to get the bulk of the finale - that ended up being a little bright, but f/22 and ISO 100 is the lowest I could go on inhibiting light coming in with that lens. I really wanted an even longer long shutter speed, so I had to pull the exposure back a bit in post.
5. Editing Firework Images
For editing these images, it really doesn’t take much! I like to pull up the blacks to darken the sky, increase the saturation and maybe the contrast a bit to make them pop. Since you won’t be moving around much and your subject is unpredictable (especially since you’ll be pressing the shutter before you know precisely where the action is happening for each burst), you might also need to crop a bit to get the best composition. Then sharpen as you normally would, and you’re done!
Next on my list? Someday I’d love to find a place where I can get shots similar to this, but with water in the foreground that reflects the fireworks. Think that might be too tall an order? I hope not! There are not a lot of lakes around where I live, but I still hope maybe one day I will be able to manage it!
If you have time, here is another great blog tutorial on How to Photograph Fireworks!
Do you have any questions or comments about Photographing Fireworks? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share our tutorial using the social sharing buttons - we really appreciate it!
About Jessica: A native of the San Francisco Bay Area she calls home, Jessica Holden is a photographer, freelance book editor, and mom with an eye for capturing the everyday moments and ordinary things that make life extraordinary. In her ideal world, she’d shop at Anthropologie, explore the backroads of Italy, and sip cappuccino out of porcelain cups in European cafés. In this one, she shops at Target, visits castles in Disneyland, and settles for cappuccinos in paper cups at Starbucks. And she wouldn’t change a thing!