9 Tips for Photographing Fireworks

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Fireworks are one of the most exciting things out there to photograph. On the flip side, they can be one of the most frustrating things to photograph if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Whether you plan on taking pictures with your pocket point and shoot, or scouting a vantage point over a lake with your tripod and digital SLR, here are a few tips to remember to give you the best chance at capturing some great images.

1.) Turn Off Your Flash

Have you ever been to a sporting event or seen one on TV where a big moment happens and flashes start going off all over the stadium? Well, next time you see something like this, turn your attention to the pro photographers on the ground, the ones taking pictures for magazines, news stations, stock agencies and so on. What you’ll notice is that none of them are using flash! Whether you’re sitting in the nosebleed section of a sporting event, or photographing fireworks from across a lake, your flash is virtually useless from such a distance.

2.) Switch to Manual or Bulb Mode!

It’s time to forget about that little green box on your camera settings. Don’t let your camera decide the settings for you. For fireworks, switch to either Manual or Bulb mode on your camera. These settings puts YOU in control of your shutter speed.

For manual mode, try starting with a mid aperture like f/11, a shutter speed of 2 seconds and your ISO around 400. From here, you can experiment with different shutter speed settings and see the difference that each one makes. It’s important to keep in mind that your shots without fireworks in them will look underexposed. You don’t want to expose for the scene without fireworks, because when the show starts and the sky lights up, your scene will be totally blown out. When the sky and foreground is all lit up from tons of fireworks, it can be nearly as bright as day.

You can also switch to Bulb mode and try your hand at random shutter speeds. For this method, it’s best to set your ISO lower, around 100, and your aperture a bit smaller, around f/16. These two settings will allow you to take longer and longer shutter speeds during the night so you can just start the exposure and stop it after a big burst of fireworks. You do need to have a remote shutter release for this though, one that allows you to hold down a button to keep the shutter open until you release it. The trick here is to press the button when the fire works go up, then keep the shutter open during the entire explosion, then release it when it dissipates.


3.) Switch to Manual Focus

Autofocus is just going to slow you down and cause you to miss a large percentage of your images. My suggestion is to autofocus on a building or object off in the distance where the fireworks will be and then switch your lens to manual focus. You can also set your lens to infinite focus (the little symbol that looks like an 8) but just be sure to check focus once the fireworks start going off to verify everything is nice and sharp.

4.) Scout a Location Beforehand

Most firework shows are going to be really really crowded. I don’t think I’ve ever been to one that wasn’t. Unless you’re at Disney World, they only happen a couple times a year so everyone wants to be a part of it. Get to the show early and claim a spot with a good vantage point. Look for a spot where you can include some sort of foreground feature in your shot. This could be the reflection in the water, a landmark/recognizable building, a group of people, etc. Having a foreground subject in your shot adds a whole new level of “interestingness” to your image.

5.) Get a Tripod

When you’re shooting with 1/2 second shutter speeds, hand holding your camera is just not going to cut it any longer. It’s time to take that next crucial step towards creating captivating and compelling images. A tripod is the absolute only way to get sharp images at long shutter speeds. If your tripod is light, or flimsy, use your camera bag or a backpack of some sort to weigh it down. Most tripods have a hook underneath that is actually there for this very reason.


6.) Take Advantage of Mirror Lock-Up

Most digital cameras have this option, but most photographers don’t know about it. If your camera has Live View, the mirror will automatically lock up to activate the LED screen. Locking up your mirror prevents it from causing vibration at long shutter speeds, this is just one more step towards preventing any sort of movement during your frames.

7.) Use a Remote Shutter

This is a great companion if you have access to one. A self timer doesn’t really work too well for fireworks. You need to be able to take a picture right when you want to take it. Having to start a two second or even ten second timer just doesn’t work when there is so much action going on. A remote shutter gets your hands off the camera to prevent vibration and movement, and still allows you to take pictures when you want to take them.

8.) Bring a Variety of Lenses

Your lens choice for shooting fireworks is going to depend on how far away you are from the action. If you’re really far away, you’re going to need something like a 70-200mm lens. If you’re fairly close, you’ll need something like a 24-70mm lens. It just depends. Lenses come in all shapes and sizes, and some are more expensive than others, but having the right lens when you need it is priceless.

9.) Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

That’s right, it’s not ALL about taking pictures folks! Be sure to take time to come out from behind the camera and simply take it all in. Fireworks are a lot of fun, and even more so with friends and family around. Be sure to enjoy this time with friends and family and don’t focus all your efforts on getting pictures. Walking away with just a few keeps is perfectly acceptable!

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