Photographing Fireworks

Pyronale Berlin by Till Krech

Photographing fireworks can be tricky so it’s important to make plans in advance. Make sure to arrive before the show begins to find an unobstructed view of where the fireworks display will appear.

Assess what will be in the foreground and background of your shots. Make sure you’re in a place where people will not constantly walk in front of you. However for some shots, it’s perfectly acceptable to have people or scenery included in photos. The fireworks will illuminate those parts of the scene.

Extraneous lighting can interfere with getting a properly exposed photo of fireworks. Stay as far away as possible from illuminated signs, street lamps and parking lots with artificial lighting.

Position your digital camera where the fireworks will explode. Recompose when necessary.

Take a few practice shots early in the show. Check focus and exposure on the LCD. Adjust settings if needed.

Once the show begins, take lots of shots! The more shots you take, the better your chances of capturing some spectacular photos.

Vary exposure when photographing fireworks

Red Dwarf by Martin Terber

A longer exposure time of four seconds will capture two or three bursts. When the firework bursts appear more rapidly during the grand finale, use an exposure time of one or two seconds.

What to bring:

  • A tripod, monopod or selfie-stick to steady your camera or camera phone and prevent camera shake. When using a camera support, you will also be able to shoot at a lower ISO number to help avoid noise in images.
  • A small to mid-sized flashlight to use when you must adjust camera settings in the dark.
  • Extra batteries and memory cards.

Getting your camera ready:

  • Set your camera’s focal length to the equivalent of 50mm or wider. Using a wide focal length is generally more effective than zooming in when photographing fireworks because the aperture is faster at the wide end of the zoom. Later, when editing, you can crop to give the appearance of a close-up shot.
  • Set the camera to it’s highest quality settings.
  • Because autofocus can be slow when it’s dark, set your digital camera to infinity mode, or manually focus to infinity.
  • To prevent blur due to camera shake, use a tripod or other steady support. Also use the self-timer or a camera remote to release the shutter.
  • Switch the flash from auto to off. If you can’t turn it off, tape a piece of cardboard over it.
  • Avoid using the digital zoom, if possible. A digital zoom reduces image quality.

Other camera settings:

If your digital camera’s settings can not be changed, the automatic settings may keep the shutter open long enough for a proper exposure. Set your camera to Fireworks mode, which has factory optimized settings for capturing fireworks.

If your camera doesn’t have Fireworks mode, use Landscape mode.

If your camera has manual settings:

  • Set focus to infinity.
  • Use an aperture of F5.6 or smaller (higher number). Using smaller apertures will help ensure that the fireworks trails are sharper, containing more detail.
  • Set the shutter to bulb.
  • Exposure: use between one and four seconds.
  • If possible, use an ISO of 100.

Recommended ISO & aperture settings for photographing fireworks:

ISO setting Aperture size
50 f/5.6 to 11
100 f/8 to 16
200 f/11 to 22

Photo credits: Pyronale Berlin by Till Krech, Red Dwarf by Martin Terber.

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