Life hack

How to take photos of fireworks

Updated December 27, 2019, 10:22pm EDT

How to take photos of fireworks

There’s nothing like a loud bang and a bright flash of light to really make an occasion feel special. New Year’s Eve, Halloween, and of course, the Fourth of July are all celebrated with fireworks. They’re a pretty tricky subject to photograph, though, so let’s break down what you need to know.

What Makes a Good Firework Photo?

For all the flash and bang in real life, fireworks on their own are a pretty boring photo subject. Totally isolated, they look like something computer generated. Instead, the best firework photos have something else happening in the image. It might be people in the foreground or just the fireworks bursting over a city, but there’s something else going on.

How to take photos of fireworks

When the pyrotechnicians let off fireworks, they do it to get the best show. This means that fireworks are let off individually or in small bursts one after the other. It’s rare that the whole sky will be filled all at once. This looks great in real life, but in a photo, a single firework going off looks anticlimactic. Most firework photos are actually long exposure images that capture all the fireworks that went off over a 10 second, 20 second, or even longer period.

The Technical Stuff

To capture a photo of fireworks, you’ve got two options: the first (and the bad one) is to hand-hold your camera and try and time a photo so you capture the fireworks as they go off. The second (and good solution) is to set your camera up on a tripod and use a long exposure time so that the fireworks burst at some point during it. This is the method I’ll be discussing.

How to take photos of fireworks

For the best photos, get to the location of the firework display early, before the sun has fully gone down. Set up your tripod and frame the shot where you think the fireworks are going to be. You might need to adjust things later, but getting there early will let you get the best position and angle.

What lens you use depends on how far away from the display you will be. A zoom lens will give you a lot more flexibility to adapt to whatever happens. In general, you won’t be so far away that you need a really long telephoto lens. Something with a focal length of between 18mm and 70mm will work for most situations. Just make sure to use manual focus.

Aperture is less important than shutter speed for firework photos. You have to stand too far back from the display for depth of field to matter. Set your aperture to somewhere between f/8 and f/16, depending on the ambient light. If the fireworks are being let off over a city, f/16 will work better. If they’re out in the woods, lean towards f/8.

How to take photos of fireworks

Fireworks flash brightly, and since you’re using a tripod, ISO isn’t much of a concern. Set it to 100 and leave it there. We’ll be adjusting the exposure using shutter speed.

There is no one shutter speed that will capture fireworks. Whether you have the shutter open for 10 seconds or 30 seconds, what matters is the half second the firework actually flashes really brightly for. The difference is that with the shutter open for 30 seconds, you’ll capture five or six firework bursts rather than just one or two; you’ll also give the background more time to expose.

How to take photos of fireworks

Start with a shutter speed of somewhere around 10 seconds and take some test shots. If the photos are overexposed, tighten your aperture or shorten your exposure time to five seconds. If they’re underexposed, you can open your aperture a little or else go for 20 second exposures. The only way to find out what will work is trial and error.

Other Tips and Tricks

Be prepared to adjust your shutter speed and aperture on the fly. As the firework display goes on, there will be bigger bursts and quieter periods. The shutter speed that gave a great exposure at the start might overexpose the crescendo.

Pay attention to the other elements in your image. A strong foreground or nice background will take a good firework photo and make it great.

How to take photos of fireworks

If you have a cable release or remote trigger, you can put your camera in Bulb mode. As long as you hold down the release button, your camera’s shutter will stay open. This gives you a lot of flexibility in how long your exposures are.

It’s really difficult to capture firework displays using your phone. The best thing to do is record a video instead of photo, or use an app like Slow Shutter Cam on iOS or Long Exposure Camera 2 on Android as well as a smartphone tripod.

Enjoy the display. Don’t get so caught up in taking photos that you miss out on the fun of hearing things go bang and smelling gunpowder.

Firework photos are a little tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you have your camera on a tripod and use a long exposure time it’s hard to go wrong.

Phantom Fireworks wants to help you take quality pictures that capture the beautiful and amazing fireworks displays so you can share the memories for a lifetime. July 4th celebrations are right around the corner, and every year onlookers at firework displays want to share the excitement and joy of fireworks with friends by taking pictures of the fireworks on their phones and sending or posting them on social media. And every year, we hear about how bad the pictures came out. Sometimes they are too blurry, didn’t catch the fireworks burst at the right time, too bright, etc. This year, start taking pictures like a pro by following these tips and tricks.

iPhone and Android Tips:

This eliminates shaky hands so you can get a good quality picture. Tripods are actually fairly cheap and worth the investment. You can also plug your headphones into your iPhone to take pictures to avoid touching your phone.

Turn the flash off and use HDR mode. Flashes are only useful for to illuminate something a few feet in front of the camera. Since fireworks are so bright, you don’t need to use the flash. HDR mode will allow your phone to take a series of pictures with different exposure levels and combines those pictures into one photo which results in a more vivid picture. Take pictures with and without HDR on to get the best results.

3. Landscape mode

Use landscape mode to get a wider range.

4. Don’t use the digital zoom

You can always go back later and crop the image down to rid the picture of hands, trees, or other objects in the picture. Digital zoom can sometimes make the image blurry.

5. Less exposure the better

Decrease the exposure or brightness. This will allow you to take a picture of a firework without overexposure. You can lock the focus on iPhone using AE/AF lock, and adjust the exposure by sliding your finger down on the yellow box.

6. Disable the ‘Review Pictures’ setting for Android users

Usually after you take a picture, your phone will automatically display the photo. Since fireworks are quick, turning this off will allow you to take more pictures.

7. Take the picture

You could also experiment with live pictures and burst photos. To take a burst photo, hold down on your shutter.

Most photographers will take hundreds of pictures just to get a few good ones. If you’re not totally satisfied with the pictures you’re taking, play around with the exposure or try other settings. You might also want to try using slow motion, time lapse, or panoramic to capture cool firework effects.

Can you shoot great iPhone photos of fireworks without any extra fancy accessories or specialty apps?

The answer may surprise you…

The best possible fireworks photos that you could shoot on an iPhone would require you utilizing a tripod and an app like Slowshutter. If you use Slowshutter’s light trails setting and shoot a bunch of photos you should get some AWESOME SHOTS. But Slowshutter absolutely won’t work if you don’t have a tripod for your iPhone like Joby’s Gorillapod.

Best iPhone photos of FIREWORKS = Tripod + Slowshutter app.

– Get close enough to the fireworks.
– Set-up your iPhone tripod.
– Open up Slowshutter.
– Set up your Shutter app on a slight delay timer so you don’t shake the camera when you push the shutter button.

– You can also, plug in your headphones and press the Volume + button as a remote
– Shoot a bunch of photos.

What if I don’t have a tripod?

If you don’t have a tripod or any way to “Macgyver” your iPhone to stay perfectly still, then here are 6 tips to take better iPhone photos of Fireworks.

1. Use Focus/ Exposure Lock to lock in your focus.

At night it’s hard to focus. Your phone could be going in and out of focus for a while trying to get locked onto something. Especially when things are moving.

To lock the focus/ exposure:
– Open your iPhone’s Camera app.
– Wait til there are some bright fireworks going off then press your screen right on top of the fireworks and hold on your screen until the focus/ exposure locks. (2 seconds)
– Your focus/ exposure will be locked until you touch the screen to refocus or exit your camera app.

2. Hold Still

– It’s hard, but you must try to hold as still as possible. Rest your arm on a railing, brace yourself, or hold your breath. The more still you are the better the photos will turn out.

3. Take Many Pictures

– Once your focus is locked you can keep shooting.
– Shoot a bunch of photos. Practice makes perfect.

4. Burst mode

Shoot in burst mode and take a ton of photos! When you shoot a lot, you get multiple chances and you should have some good photos in there.

To shoot burst mode:
– Press and hold on the shutter button. You’ll see a counter come up and tell you how many pictures you are taking.
– Keep shooting different burst sequences.
– Watch the rest of the show and pick the best photo later.

5. Flash won’t help.

Your pitiful iPhone flash doesn’t go very far beyond a few feet… and even if it did it wouldn’t help you take better photos of fireworks because they are already their own lights.


– Record video of the fireworks.
– Later, take a screen shot of your video at the climactic moment. This will be lower quality… but may prove to be the easiest way to capture the fireworks.

BONUS ideas:

– You could try to shoot a pano. I’ve seen some pretty cool iPhone panos of fireworks.
– Try a time lapse if you have a tripod. Play the whole fireworks show back in a few seconds.

Fireworks don’t explode just on the 4th of July, and if you plan things right, you can get spectacular pictures with your digital SLR. Capturing the stirring images of fireworks cascading in all their colorful stages can produce photographs well worth framing.

How to take photos of fireworks

1 Stake your claim to a good vantage point.

You’ll need to arrive early to scout for a good location and set yourself up there. If you can get a famous landmark in the picture, so much the better.

How to take photos of fireworks

2 Mount your camera on a tripod and enable your camera settings.

Use an aperture with an f/stop of f/11 to give you the huge depth of field you need. Use Single Shot Drive and Focus modes and the Manual shooting mode. You want to capture a couple of fireworks bursts, so your shutter speed should be set to 4 or 6 seconds. Use the lowest ISO setting you have. The focal length you choose depends on how close you can get to the display. If the fireworks are being shot from a barge and you’re photographing from the beach, a wide-angle focal length is perfect. If you’re farther away, you can zoom in.

How to take photos of fireworks

3 Set the lens to manual focus and the lens focus to Infinity, and attach a hood.

You have to do the focusing because your camera won’t be able to. The Infinity setting paired with the small aperture gives the large depth of field necessary. The lens hood prevents any ambient sidelight from washing out parts of the image.

4 When the fireworks start, compose your image, and zoom in.

The start of the show lets you know where to point the camera and which focal length to use. As the event progresses, you can experiment with different focal lengths. Zoom in, and you may get lucky and capture one burst followed by another device ascending.

5 Set the auto-timer for its shortest duration, then press the shutter button fully to take the picture.

The auto-timer counts down before opening the shutter to give the camera a chance to stabilize after you press the shutter button. After the shutter closes, review the image on your camera’s LCD monitor. Fine-tune your settings quickly. Fireworks displays are fairly short. Take as many pictures as you can; you can’t predict which burst will be the best, so capture as many as you can.

How to take photos of fireworks

Photographing fireworks is challenging no matter which kind of camera you use. Last week I went to Linz, Austria, to shoot a firework at a local funfair, called “Urfahraner Markt.” The firework happens right near the Danube and is best watched (and photographed) from a nearby bridge called “Nibelungenbrücke.” So, first, here are a few sample shot of the fireworks I took with the iPhone.

How to take photos of fireworks

How to take photos of fireworks

Took me a while to shoot a fireworks on iPhone. Finally!

How to take photos of fireworks

A fireworks at the fun fair in Linz, Austria. Multiple exposures using Slow Shutter Cam. App

Here are the apps and gear I used to photograph this firework with iPhone:

  • A tripod and iPhone tripod mount
  • A remote shutter release
  • Slow Shutter Cam App

Tripod and iPhone tripod mount

You can use basically any tripod with iPhone, provided you have a proper iPhone tripod mount. I use the Joby Griptight and Griptight Pro mounts. For those fireworks photos, I used the Joby Griptight Pro mount.

Slow Shutter Cam App

This app does all the magic when photographing fireworks with iPhone. Slow Shutter Cam App is an essential iPhone camera app that enables you to take long exposures with iPhone.

You can even set the shutter speed to bulb which allows you to start and stop the exposure any time which is what I used to photograph this firework with iPhone.

Remote Shutter Release

A remote shutter release is also essential when taking photos of fireworks with an iPhone. As you’re going to take long exposures, pressing the shutter release on iPhone may cause it to shake, and thus you’ll get blurry photos.

I also tried using the timer that’s built into Slow Shutter Cam App in previous attempts to photograph fireworks with iPhone, but that didn’t work out for me. I missed many good shots this way.

I also recommend using a remote shutter release that you can operate without looking at it simply because your eyes should be at the sky where the firework happens, so you don’t miss a thing. The “one-knob” Joby Impulse is just perfect for that.

Preparing your iPhone and Slow Shutter Cam App to photograph fireworks

Once you’ve set up your tripod, you should take care of a few iPhone and Slow Shutter Cam App settings

  • First, turn off auto-lock in the iPhone Settings. You usually don’t have much time when photographing fireworks; so you don’t want to waste time unlocking your iPhone if it accidentally locks and turns off.
  • Then, switch to light trail mode in Slow Shutter Cam App
  • Based from learnings from previous attempts to photograph fireworks with an iPhone, I set light sensitivity to 1/2
  • I set shutter speed to bulb. More on that in a minute
  • Set ISO to 80 to avoid noise as much as possible.

How to take photos of fireworks

Once we’ve applied the above settings, tap on an object in the distance on thescreen to set focus and exposure. And now, the most crucial part, we’ll lock AE and AF in Slow Shutter Cam app to avoid the autofocus kicking in. You do that by taping the AE and AF icons in the toolbar, so they turn to a lock.

How to take photos of fireworks

Photographing fireworks with iPhone

Here’s a pro tip, before you start to photograph: Slow Shutter Cam App is capable of doing multiple exposures into one, single, frame. The trick here is to have auto save turned off in Slow Shutter Cam App. Then, after you take a photo, Slow Shutter Cam App usually displays a little toolbar at the bottom of the screen asking you if you’d like to discard, edit or save your photo.

Don’t tap any of those options. Just press the shutter release again, and you’ll create a second exposure in the same frame. This is how I got this photo, which is actually four exposures.

How to take photos of fireworks

To trigger the shutter release, I used the Joby Impulse remote shutter release. It’s small and easy to use – just one button. Now, looking at the sky, I triggered the shutter release whenever I saw the light trail of a firework rocket and pressed the shutter release again 1–2 seconds after it exploded.

That’s why I set the shutter release to bulb mode in Slow Shutter Cam App – to be able to start and end the exposure whenever I needed.

Adjustments you may need to make

Try to take some photos right when the firework was set off. Use those photos to validate the settings we made. If the photo looks too bright in the sense that you just see bright, white, light instead of colors of the exploding rockets, you may need to turn down light sensitivity a notch from, e.g., 1/2 to 1/4. Don’t turn up ISO, or the black, nightly sky may become quite noisy.

Now, let’s take some great iPhone photos of fireworks together.

About the Author

Chris Feichtner is Vienna, Austria-based photographer with 10 years of experience shooting events and concerts until 2012, when he ditched his big cameras and switched to travel and iPhone only photography. You can see more of his work on his website or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

Fireworks are really fun to take pictures of, but they’re a bit challenging. To get started on the right foot, DIY Photography has a few basic settings to dial in before the fireworks start.

As you’d expect, you’ll get the best fireworks photos by shooting on manual. Here’s DIY Photography’s take on what to set those manual settings at:

As noted, we’re going to be using a very slow shutter speed. 2.5-4 seconds is a pretty good starting point, although I prefer something longer like 6-8 seconds or more. Remember, if the shutter speed is too fast you won’t get any of those long light trails that make fireworks photos so dramatic. If the shutter speed is too slow, you’ll have blown-out highlights right in the middle of your frame. To make sure that all this works together, make sure you’re shooting with a low ISO (100) and narrow aperture (f/11 – f/16).

Another option when it comes to selecting a shutter speed is to switch your camera in Bulb mode. In this mode, the shutter stays open as long as you keep the shutter button pressed. This allows you to open the shutter at the beginning of the blast and close it at the end. Try this once or twice when the fireworks start to see if it works for you. If not, simply go back to setting the shutter speed on your own.

Of course, these settings are just a starting point. You’ll need to tinker and adjust to get things right for your particular setup. Still, it’s handy to at least have a starting point if this is your first time shooting fireworks. Head over to DIY Photography for a bunch of other tips.

Forget those blurry shots—try these tips for great images on the Fourth of July

For many Americans, celebrating Independence Day involves three things: a barbecue, miniature flags, and, of course, fireworks. Not necessarily in that order.

Fireworks are big fun to watch, and creating photographs of them can be even more fun. But to shoot memorable images of pyrotechnics, you’ll need to be willing to adjust settings on your camera and take the time to experiment.

Here are some key techniques for capturing perfect fireworks photos:

Choose the Right Camera and Lens

What’s the right camera for shooting fireworks? The ultimate tool is a DSLR with a variety of flexible manual exposure settings, such as the modestly priced Canon EOS Rebel T5i or the more advanced Nikon D7200.

But many less sophisticated point-and-shoot cameras and even some smartphones offer a fireworks scene mode that should yield good results.

Just as important is packing the right lens. “Your lens choice is determined by how far you expect to be from the fireworks display,” says Joe Fitzpatrick, a Florida professional photographer and instructor who specializes in landscape and fine art photography. “Typically, a lens with a wide-to-normal field of view, 18 mm to 55 mm for most consumer DSLRs, is about right.”

Make sure to also take a fully charged spare camera battery. Fitzpatrick explains that long exposures place heavy demands on your camera and can sap its power more quickly than usual. It’s also smart to have extra memory cards, so you can take lots of shots. Finally, take a flashlight just in case you drop a memory card on the ground or can’t see the camera controls in the dark.

Explore Your Camera in Advance

Before the festivities, spend some time getting familiar with your camera. You want to know what the dials and buttons do and exactly where they’re located, so you’re not fumbling around in the dark.

If you have a camera with manual settings, this might be a good time to find the camera’s owner’s manual and figure out how to adjust basic exposure parameters: shutter speed, lens aperture, and ISO.

Many digital cameras, basic and advanced, also give you a simpler option: a fireworks scene mode. This feature automatically adjusts your shutter speed and ISO to capture the festivities. (If your camera doesn’t have a fireworks mode, try the night scene mode.)

One thing you won’t need: your camera’s flash. A camera’s flash isn’t nearly powerful enough to illuminate the night sky, although it does have just enough power to really annoy your neighbors.

Select a Slow Shutter Speed

If you want a little more creative freedom, ditch the camera’s fireworks scene mode and set the camera to manual mode. This allows you more control over the exposure, including shutter speed, which is all-important for shooting fireworks.

In most normal daytime photography, your camera will automatically set a shutter speed that’s fast (say, 1⁄125 second) or superfast (1⁄1000 or above). These fast shutter speeds help reduce camera shake and freeze the action, so your images will be sharp and free from blur.

But if you try to use a fast shutter speed for fireworks, you’ll get nothing but a few small dots of light on a very dark background. The duration of a fireworks burst can be a second or more, so your camera’s shutter speed needs to be correspondingly long.

To determine the ideal shutter speed, you’ll probably need to need to do a bit of experimentation. At first, set the speed at 1 second, and use your camera’s preview screen to check the results. If the image of the fireworks seems a bit small and underwhelming, try a longer exposure, maybe 2 seconds or even longer. If the image is blurry and indistinct, try a shorter shutter speed of around 1⁄2 second. Take lots of shots and pay attention to which shutter speed settings give you the best results.

Timing is also important. It’s counterintuitive, but be sure to press the shutter release before the boom, so you capture the light trail that precedes the explosion.

Use Smaller F-Stops and Lower ISO

To enable these longer shutter speeds, you’ll need to adjust the two other key parameters of exposure. Start by dialing down the ISO to 100. (And remember to return it to a more moderate setting, like ISO 400, when you’re shooting a daytime soccer game.)

Then close down the lens aperture to f/8 or f/16, which lets in less light and gives you the added benefit of more depth of field.

At this point, you should also set your camera’s focus to infinity and disable its autofocus. This will stop your camera from readjusting every time you try to take a shot, a common problem when shooting in the dark.

Set Up a Tripod

Because fireworks require superlong shutter speeds, the camera shake when you’re holding a camera can create an ugly blur.

Mounting the camera on a tripod is almost mandatory if you want to achieve a truly sharp image while using a long shutter speed. But if you don’t have a tripod—and are willing to settle for a bit of impressionistic blur—set the camera on something stable, such as a fence and table. Bracing against a pole or a wall can also help.

“Even though the camera is mounted on a tripod, pressing the shutter button will move the camera, causing camera shake, which will blur the image, and not in a good way,” Fitzpatrick says.

You can reduce the chances of camera shake by using a wireless remote, which is an optional accessory for many DSLRs. If you don’t have a remote, trigger the shutter with the camera’s self timer instead.

One more thing: Try to find a spot upwind of the fireworks or your shots could be ruined by smoke.

Add Interest in the Foreground

The ideal Fourth of July shot includes more than just the fireworks.

Instead of restricting your images to only the bombs bursting in air, include the horizon, surrounding landscapes, buildings, or people. Giving your image context will help make it more interesting.

“Fireworks by themselves are nowhere near as impressive as when you have a photograph with fireworks with something in the foreground,” Fitzpatrick says. “For instance, fireworks over water will give you a nice foreground with a reflection.”

Using the fireworks to light the landscape from behind or the side can produce stunning shots. You can even use the fireworks to light portraits of spectators.

Fitzpatrick says silhouettes of the people watching the fireworks also makes the photo more appealing.

Many advanced cameras let you use various filters, including illustration filters that make photos look like a graphic painting or drawing.

If you have an iPhone, turn on Live Photos to create a fun, moving image. Or use apps such as Boomerang or Giphy Cam to create gifs of the celebration.

Getting the perfect shot of the fireworks display at your July 4th celebration is easier than you think.

How to take photos of fireworks

Independence Day is just around the corner, which means it’s time for fireworks. And if you’ve ever tried to snap a pic during the big show, you already know capturing bright pyrotechnics lit up against the dark sky can pose quite a challenge. But if you have a DSLR, or any camera that gives you access to manual settings, then taking the quintessential July 4th pic is within your reach.

Find The Right Spot

Arguably, this is the most important step. Scope out a spot where you can see everything and can set up a tripod in a location where people are not walking directly past your tripod. If it’s windy where you are, you’ll also want to find a spot upwind of the show fireworks so smoke won’t cloud your pics. A tripod is critical for stable photos while shooting fireworks. The exposures will be several seconds so any camera movement will blur or distort the light trails.

I would recommend a tripod with a ball head so you can quickly recompose your shots once the actual fireworks start and you have a better idea where they are happening. If you don’t have room to carry a tripod or want something lighter weight, the Gorillapod that is matched to your camera’s weight is a good alternative. Remember, stability is key.

Adjust Your Settings

Start by setting your camera to full manual mode and turning off the flash. The right settings for your specific fireworks show will vary depending on where you are. However, a good baseline is to set your ISO at 100, aperture to f/8, and switch your shutter speed to 4 seconds—or better yet, Bulb mode (B).

With bulb mode, the shutter will stay open as long as you’re depressing the button. If you’ve got a remote shutter release, now’s the time to break it out. If not, you can (carefully) hold down the button on your camera while it’s on your tripod. A more advanced technique is to use Bulb mode with the remote shutter release and a small 5×5 inch black or dark piece of cardstock. I’ve also used my hand with great results!

How to take photos of fireworks

Start by covering the lens with cardstock then open the shutter with the remote. You are now in control of when the image gets exposed by moving the card away for a few seconds then back over the lens. I found I can expose and cover several times during a 30-60 second exposure to capture the best parts of the fireworks all in one shot. Don’t leave the shutter open for too long or your image will start to get grain/noise from the sensor heating up.

You’ll also want to set your lens’ focus to manual, and focus to infinity. Autofocus is a no-no when it comes to low-light shots and will likely result in some blurry results. If you are having trouble focusing on the fireworks you can also try live view mode on your cameras display to zoom in all the way in on a distant streetlight or some other illuminated subject that is a good distance away.

Start Shooting

Once the big event starts, take a few test shots to see how your settings are working. If you’re in Bulb mode, depress the shutter right when you hear a firework shoot into the air, and let go when the bursts reach full size (typically 1 to 4 seconds). If you are using the black card or your hand to cover the lens you can do the same thing a few times to create an image filled with fireworks.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

A huge part of firework photography is trial and error. If your first few shots don’t turn out how you’d like them, tweak the settings and try again. If your photos are too dark, try opening the aperture to f4 or f5 or change the ISO to 200 (you’re ideally going to stay in the range of half a second and 4 seconds for each firework burst).

How to take photos of fireworks

Try an Abstract Shot

Once you have nailed the perfectly focused and exposed shots and you have a few moments left, try some out-of-focus exposures. Leave all the camera settings the same for this shot but dial the manual focus several feet closer than infinity. Start by dialing the focus about half way then try some exposures with the lens focused as close as possible. If you have a fast lens set it to the largest aperture like f/2 or f/1.4. You will want to experiment with focal distance and the amount of time you expose each shot.

After a few adjustments and some experimentation, you should find the perfect combination to get that ultimate freedom-loving photo.

Fireworks are the visual rulers of the nighttime universe. No matter how many times we see and experience their bombastic splendor, we always return to see what new designs will be exploded into the darkened sky.

How to take photos of fireworks

Photo by Chris Phutully; ISO 100, f/6.3, 4-second exposure.

Watching fireworks is easy. Taking fantastic fireworks photos is not. Although photographing these light shows is more challenging than capturing a daylight portrait of Uncle Ben, it is not impossible. By following these four fireworks guidelines, you will take years off your learning curve and come away with fantastic fireworks photos.

There are four main categories of guidelines to understand in order to take fireworks photos that aren’t all black or out of focus:

1. Equipment

In addition to the standard equipment list, including batteries, memory cards, camera bag, etc., here is a shortened list of critical fireworks-specific equipment to bring along:

  • Tripod — Realize that unless you use a tripod, you will most likely NOT like your fireworks photos.
  • External shutter release (a.k.a. a “cable release”)
  • Tiny flashlight so you won’t be fumbling around in the dark trying to move camera controls
  • Chair that is easy to get in and out of

For best results, your camera should be able to focus manually, and you should be able to set desired shutter speeds of up to 15 seconds, or bulb. If you have never taken a picture with your camera other than in the automatic setting, it’s time to review your owner’s manual and determine your camera’s maximum shutter speed.

2. Location

Choosing the optimal location is a little bit harder than deciding how you can squeeze into a piece of 2 foot x 3-foot real estate on the lawn.

How to take photos of fireworks

  • Look for the optimum vantage point. Avoid sitting in an area with obstructions, such as streetlights, overhead wires, or trees.
  • Decide if you want to capture additional elements (such as reflections off bodies of water or landmarks), and if so, position yourself accordingly.
  • Allow enough scouting time. If you are going to be taking fireworks photos, it is worth your time to spend 30 minutes before the show begins to pick out the best location.

3. Camera Controls and Settings

Unlike taking pictures in the daytime, there is a little bit more setup involved with nighttime photography. For starters, change the ISO setting to 200 or 400. You want your camera to be more sensitive to light but not so sensitive that it will create digital noise.

Change the focusing mode on your camera to manual and focus your camera to infinity.

  • Set up and level the tripod.
  • Attach the remote shutter release to the camera and use that to fire the shutter.
  • Adjust the shutter speed. If you have a bulb setting, this is the time to use it.
  • If you don’t have a bulb setting, use a mid-range aperture such as f/5.6, and set the shutter speed to at least 1 to 2 seconds.

4. Photographing Fireworks

Obviously, this is what it all comes down to. It doesn’t matter that you’re perfectly prepared with the perfect equipment if you don’t take any pictures. Your camera is on its tripod and the shutter release cable is attached. What’s next?

How to take photos of fireworks

Photo by Matthew Paulson; ISO 200, f/8, 8-second exposure.

  • Verify that the manual focus is set to infinity.
  • Point your camera toward the area of sky where you believe the fireworks will be exploding. (Don’t be too disappointed if you need to reposition the target area; most do at first.)
  • Your shutter speed is on bulb or set for AT LEAST 1 to 2 seconds. When do you fire the shutter? Unlike daylight photography, firing the shutter BEFORE the fireworks go off is a good idea.
  • Nobody can tell you when to fire the shutter because it is based on what type of fireworks photograph you want to capture. With that said, here are four possible indicators of when you might want to trip the shutter:
  • When you hear the next rocket being launched
  • When the launch trail becomes visible
  • Just BEFORE the rocket explodes, or
  • Just AFTER the rocket explodes

About the Author:
Robert Bezman is a professional photographer and owner of Custom Photographic Expressions. Robert has created to help the digital photography users create better photographs.

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