Shooting Fireworks

I also thought it might be helpful for some to write a quick tutorial on taking fireworks pictures. My way is probably not the ‘best’ way, but it does work and can produce incredible captures.

Simple steps

I’ll get these out of the way first. To start with, you’ll need to stabilize the camera. A tripod is a must. Next, what type of look do you want? Tight in for max detail or a wide view to take in the whole scene? Decide early which look you want, if shooting with a prime lens, or bring a zoom that gives you options while shooting.

Getting to the location early is huge. There will always be crowds, so getting there early will generally mean less walking. Comfortable shoes and clothing helps as well.

Camera Settings

You’ll want to set your aperture to at least f/5.6. For what I like to do, I’m usually at around f/11 to f/14. Set your ISO to the lowest (best quality) possible. Your shutter speed can be anywhere from 3 seconds to 15 seconds, but the longer the better. I’ll explain more about shutter speed later.

Also, bring along a dark cloth, blanket or hat. Something you can cover the front of the lens with easily while shooting.

Use a remote or set your camera’s self-timer to the shortest wait (mine is 2 seconds). This is to avoid shaking the camera when pressing the shutter button. The trick is to figure out what type of effect you would like (exposure duration) and setting your aperture accordingly. Setting your shutter to something long, like 10 seconds or more, is where the fun starts in my opinion. I like to ‘paint’ the fireworks as I see them. So, a long exposure, plus the cover that I spoke of earlier (I use a hat…) and away we go. Start an exposure and let it expose until there is a lull or just before a new batch launches. Then, cover up the lens for a second or two while watching the action. Once the next set has fired, uncover the front of the lens and finish the exposure. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BUMP THE LENS while doing this as you’ll get wavy lines in the fireworks.

I was just on Joe Mcnally’s blog and he mentions using a black ‘card’ (index, cardboard, etc…). This is probably easier to use but I like my hat as I can wear it when not using it to cover the lens!

Many photographers will use the BULB setting on their camera. This is a fine way of shooting fireworks. However, I enjoy the extra creative capability and flexibility of this method as I can cover and uncover as many times as my chosen shutter allows.

Practice makes perfect

My method is not a perfect science. In fact, it’s difficult and you’ll come away with misses; but the ones you nail should rock! Most importantly though, have fun! Try to actually enjoy the show as well!

Feel free to post your techniques or tips in the comments section.

Good luck!