Our ultimate guide to photographing fireworks.
The fourth of July is a perfect time to test your skills as a photographer and see how well you can take control of your camera with shooting fireworks displays. Nighttime fireworks photography is a form of night photography and comes with its own tricks of the trade. In this post, we’ll give you all the details on what photography equipment to pack in your kit, how to scout your location, best camera settings for fireworks, and how to best capture fireworks from a professional perspective.
Quick Tips for Firework Photography
Looking for short and sweet fireworks photography tips? Check out our easy breakdown below.
- Use a tripod
- Use a remote release to trigger the shutter
- Shoot the highest quality file you can—ideally RAW
- Turn off your Flash
- Use Manual Mode
- Turn off Autofocus and Manually Focus your lens at infinity
- Use a low ISO—100 or 200
- A good starting point for Aperture is f/11
- A good starting place for Shutter Speed is 1/2 second. OR set the camera to Bulb (B) which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want. Expose for the entire firework burst or keep the shutter open for multiple bursts.
Read on for our complete guide to firework photography.
The best advice we can give you on how to photograph fireworks is to make sure to plan ahead and do the prep work before heading out.
Scout Your Location
Make sure to choose a spot a bit further back and—if possible—upwind from where the fireworks will be set off. Fireworks can get a bit smokey and choosing the right vantage point can improve the quality of your shot.
Set Up Ahead Of Time
Setting up early before it gets dark will give you a head start for getting great pictures and getting comfortable with your gear.
Consider Your Scene
The city skyline, the audience around you, other foreground and background elements—figuring out what you’d like to incorporate into your shot will help you think about your settings ahead of time.
This is the gear you’ll need when learning how to photograph fireworks.
a DSLR or mirrorless camera with full manual settings is ideal.
Zoom lenses will give you the most flexibility. A wide-angle lens is ideal if you’re pretty close to the action, but if you’re farther away a telephoto lens will make the fireworks feel much closer. Chose a 24-70mm if you’re close, or a 70-200mm if you’re further away. An 18-200mm zoom would work for either situation.
A tripod is essential for capturing fireworks. To set it up first extend the tripod’s legs to their full length while keeping it level and even on the ground. Then mount your camera and check to make sure it’s also level. Finally, bring your camera up to eye level by extending the height of the center column—keeping it as low as possible for maximum stability. Strong and sturdy tripods are ideal for long exposures outdoors as they can keep your camera steady even on a windy evening.
You’ll get the best results by not touching your camera when using long exposures. Using a wired or wireless cable release will help you keep your camera motionless on even the most solid of tripods.
An Extra Battery
Long exposures can be a real drain on your battery, so having an extra one or two in your bag will keep you ready and shooting all night.
Extra Memory Cards
Just like with batteries, it’s better to be prepared with extra in case you need it.
A flashlight—or your smartphone—is always helpful in the dark in case you need to change your camera settings, find gear in your bag, or want to keep yourself and others from tripping over your tripod. Expert tip—put some reflective tape on your tripod legs to make them more visible in the dark.
A 4×4-inch piece of black foam core
For holding in front of the lens if you want to capture multiple fireworks bursts for double or multiple exposures.
Your Camera Settings
When you’re learning how to photograph fireworks, your camera settings make all the difference.
Image Format: RAW
Shooting in RAW format is always suggested over JPG when you’re after quality images. You can always edit your photos later for optimal highlight or shadow recovery.
Manual mode will allow you to have full control of your aperture and shutter speed so that you can make any necessary exposure adjustments.
Most digital cameras have difficulty with autofocusing in low light situations and you can end up missing the shot you were after while your camera “hunts” for an optimal focus point.
For firework photography use the autofocus to set the focus during the first few bursts and then switch your lens to manual focus so that the camera’s focus remains constant. Additionally, you can try turning off the autofocus, and manually focus your lens at infinity. Once your focusing is set you won’t need to change it unless you’re changing focal lengths.
Stabilization / Vibration Reduction: OFF
If you’re using a lens with Stabilization (image stabilization) or VR (vibration reduction) turn off this function. These systems generally do not work well when using a tripod.
Noise Reduction: OFF
Firework photos are low-light photos, but the shutter speed isn’t usually long enough to incur a build-up of noise. Additionally, keeping it on will double your exposure time, which is unnecessary.
Shooting with a flash will only trick your camera into thinking it needs a short exposure time or brightening and enhancing smoke which would distract from the actual firework display. Keep your flash off.
White Balance: Daylight
Setting your White Balance to Daylight will give you consistent color across your entire set of images. Since you’re shooting in RAW, you can always tweak it later in post-processing and apply it to the entire set.
Keep your ISO as low as possible for the cleanest noise-free shots every time.
A good starting point for aperture is f/11. The mid-range apertures (f/8 to f/16) will give you the sharpest results.
Shutter Speed: Bulb
Set your camera to Bulb (B) which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want. Expose for the entire firework burst or keep the shutter open for multiple bursts.
For best results click the shutter just as the firework is launching and hold it down until the burst has faded, typically a few seconds.
If you’re not using Bulb, or if your camera doesn’t have that option, start with a shutter speed of 1/2 second and experiment buy slowing it down between 3–4 seconds. This way, you’ll get variation between your shots and different effects. Keep in mind that the longer your shutter speed, the more movement your camera will capture—too long of an exposure might lead to extensive blurred motion, especially if there is wind. Try to keep the shutter speed below 3–4 seconds.
Using Bulb Mode:
- Connect the remote shutter release to your camera
- Frame your shot and set your focal length
- Set your camera to Bulb Mode (changing your shutter speeds to longer than 30 seconds usually reveals Bulb Mode)
- Click the shutter release button on the remote and hold it down until the firework sequence ends, then release the button
- Check the image on your camera’s screen for focus and exposure.
Additional Tips For Shooting Fireworks
Check Your Settings
Check your results with at the beginning, and periodically if you are changing your focal length or settings.
- Too bright / Overexposed— stop down your aperture or speed up your shutter speed
- Too dark / Underexposed—open your aperture or slow down your shutter speed
Stay flexible and adjust as needed. Each firework burst is different, so there is no magic exposure to dial in and use.
Vary Your Shots
Zoom in for tight, detailed shots of fireworks or zoom out to capture the crowd and environment. Your setting will stay the same if you want people or objects to appear in silhouette, but you’ll need to change your settings and expose for your subject (bridge/building/people’s faces) if they’re the main focus of your photograph. Experiment with changing only one setting (aperture or shutter speed) at a time to fine-tune your exposure for best results.
Keep in mind that changing focal length will also require refocusing for most zoom lenses. You’ll want to make sure to check for this before the show begins, while it is still light out.
Taking more shots than normal will give you a better chance of getting that “perfect shot”. Additionally, capturing more of the screen around you and varying your focal length can be more interesting from a narrative perspective.
Don’t Forget To Have Fun!
Now that you know how to photograph fireworks we hope that you’ll feel better prepared and get a chance to have some fun! Firework photography can be a bit challenging at first, but once to get your settings in place the rest should flow pretty easily and you can shoot while enjoying the display with your friends and family.