Fireworks are a fascinating photography subject, and these quick tips are designed to get you out there enjoying the show and capturing some incredible photographs while you are at it!
Fireworks: Know Before You Go
- Bring a tripod and know how to use it. A tripod is indispensable for firework photography, as you need a nice long shutter speed (2-10 seconds is a good place to start). Be sure you know how to Maximize Your Tripod too to get a nice steady shot with maximum effect.
|No tripod? Intentional Camera Movement with fireworks can be a lot of fun. (2.5 second shot)|
- Use a remote shutter release. A remote shutter release is an inexpensive photography upgrade (click to read more) that allows you to trigger your camera without touching it. A remote release will let you take a series of shots quickly without moving or bumping the camera and allows you to more subtly time your shots for the peak of the explosions and lights.
- Consider a black piece of cardstock. This is a piece of photography advice that I have seen around quite a lot but not used myself. The idea is that you use a very long shutter speed (say 15-30 seconds or longer). During that exposure, you cover your lens with the piece of black cardstock (heavier paper) when there are not many fireworks and uncover it for each blast. This allows you to capture multiple different explosions over a longer period of time. (Covering the lens in between limits the potential for overexposure of the background during that time.)
Fireworks: When You Arrive
- Scout your location. If you haven't had the chance beforehand, definitely spend a little time to scout out your location. Arrive early to have a chance of finding an ideal, unobstructed view. Pay attention to potential wind direction, if any. Being downwind of the fireworks means that all of the smoke is going to blow your way and quickly start obscuring the view. If you can find a location facing west, rather than east, you are guaranteed a darker sky if fireworks start earlier in the evening.
- Water is ideal. Fireworks over water are always better, period. Reflections in water means double the explosions, double the lights, and double the photography potential. (Really want to take this advice to heart? Photograph from a boat. The shot above was taken from a canoe, and while it throw the whole 'tripod' advice out the window, it still made for some fabulous shots.)
|I like how the silhouettes of the bike and tree added to this shot.|
- Pay attention to your foreground. If you can't find a great spot with water, think about what other potential foreground interest you can find. Big city fireworks shows offer great opportunities to capture fireworks in relationship to the city skyline or reflected in a tall skyscraper. Also, think about all your fellow fireworks watchers and photographers. You can get some memorable shots including some of them in the frame too.
- Be sure that you are set up and ready to go before the show begins. Consider setting your tripod up lower than its maximum height. (This allows you to shoot and adjust your camera while sitting. Don't be that guy who stands up and blocks everyone else's view during the show.)
Fireworks: During the Show
- Settings-wise, fireworks are a bit of "guess and check" work, and you definitely need to adjust as the show goes on, especially as an over-enthusiastic and bright finale will likely blow out into a white mass of undifferentiated light.
- Point-and-Shoots: if you have a point-and-shoot camera, check if it has a built-in "fireworks" mode. If so, use it. If not, try the long shutter mode and set a shutter speed or a shutter or two. Try longer shutter speeds if your images are too dark.
- DSLRs: keep you ISO at 100 for sharp shots, and start with a shutter speed around a second or two and a wide open aperture. If your photo is too bright, use a middle-range aperture like f/8 or f/11 (especially if you want foreground details in focus).
|ISO 100, f/10, 10 seconds. |
The mid-range aperture (f/10) would have allowed for my foreground to stay in focus,
but the people were moving during the exposure.
- Focusing can be tricky. Your best bet is to use manual focus. That way, your camera will not waste time hunting around for something to focus on in the dark and will simply take pictures right when you want them. (If manual focus is not your thing, pick something out at a distance and focus on it with your camera. Then switch your lens into manual focus mode, and it will remain focused at that same distance.)
- As the show goes on, you want to keep an eye on how your shots are turning out. If they are too bright, consider using a shorter shutter speed or using a more narrow aperture. If they are too dark, consider using a longer shutter speed or using a more wide open aperture. (For more on aperture, read our aperture series which starts with Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum. For more on shutter speed, start with the Shutter Speed Overview and then the Shutter Speed Guidelines.)
Photographing Fireworks: Summary
Fireworks can be a very tricky but also very rewarding subject to photograph. Long shutter speeds let you capture the entire process of a long and beautiful explosion of lights and colors, and each one is different and unique. Have fun with it!
|Sparklers and personal fireworks can be quite a bit of fun to photograph as well (where legal, of course)|