How To Photograph Fireworks

By Andrew Hudson

By Andrew Hudson Published: May 25, 2011 Updated: August 22, 2013

Photographs of fireworks are spectacular, colorful, and fairly easy to do once you know the tricks.

For best results, you will need: an SLR camera, tripod, cable release, a long lens, and plenty of patience.

Since you don’t know exactly when the fireworks will explode, and you are aiming to capture their trails, you will need to hold the camera shutter open for 2-30 seconds. Compact cameras don’t usually offer this long exposure feature so you will probably need an SLR camera with a manual exposure mode often called ‘Bulb’ (often marked ‘B’).

To get sharp images, you must keep the camera perfectly still. Propping your camera on a wall, car-top or table may suffice, but nothing beats a good, solid tripod. You’ll also need a cable release to activate the shutter without touching and moving the camera. Waterfront settings are good as you can include the reflections of the fireworks in your shot. Cityscapes, landmarks, or people add context to the shot, but remember that they’ll come out as silhouettes, so don’t include faces or other details. High viewpoints, upwind from the smoke, are usually best. Get there early to secure your spot and select a lens (usually a telephoto) that will fill the frame with trails. Use the first burst to focus the lens (don’t rely on your ‘infinity’ setting).

To photograph the fireworks, open the shutter, wait for some bursts, then close the shutter. That’s it!

Take lots of photos (which you can edit later) to get a few good shots. Try different apertures (f8 is the safest) and different zoom settings. Include only a few bursts to fill up the frame; too many will look messy. To reduce the effect of street lighting, cover the lens between bursts with your hand, a black card, or a black cap.

Looking for a truly spectacular shot? You can double-expose your film to include the full moon with the fireworks. (Only a few cameras provide a “multiple-exposure” mode).

Copyright 1998–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission. This article was edited by Matt Wiseman and first appeared in Postcards Magazine, a publication for Carlson Leisure Group by Cowles Creative Publishing. Tips | photography books | Email

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