Fireworks Photography 101

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

Fireworks displays are something that typically evokes a lot of emotion in people as they are not only beautiful and wonderful to watch but they also are often used to celebrate momentous occasions.

Fireworks in the night sky
Fireworks composite image | Antrim, NH | 2019

Here are a few steps you’ll need to get you started to photograph fireworks:

  1. Use a Tripod

  2. Use a Remote Release

  3. Compose Your Shot

  4. Selecting your Aperture

  5. Focal Length

  6. Shutter Speed

  7. Set your ISO

  8. Shoot in Manual Mode

  9. Experiment & Have fun!

Fireworks in the night sky
Taken with the Canon 6D Mark II | 16mm | SS 3.2 sec | ISO 160

Use a Tripod

Your camera's shutter will be open for at least a couple seconds. A tripod will assure that your camera is sturdy and will lessen any chances of shaking or wobbling that would occur if you tried this handheld.

Use a Remote Release

Investing in a remote release device will ensure your camera stays entirely still. Even if you're equipped with the heaviest, steadiest tripod and lightest touch, you will move your camera if you depress the shutter release by hand.

Compose Your Shot

Try scoping out your location early and know where the fireworks will be shot off from. You'll want to get an unobstructed view of the fireworks display! Be sure to keep things like the foreground and background of your shots in mind. Will there be other individuals in your shot? What about powerlines? Will they intersect the shot?

Selecting your Aperture

First of all, what is aperture? Simply put, aperture can be defined as the opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. That is your f stop. The smaller the f-stop number, the more light that is let in. The higher the f-stop number, the less light that is let in.

For photographing fireworks, a mid to small range works well. Depending on the scenario, anywhere between f/8 - f/16 can be optimal settings. But figuring out which one is right for you will take time and experimenting.

Focal Length

I generally shoot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. This gives excellent coverage of the sky, which is great for shows that span a longer distance or have an excellent setting. The image above was taken at the Washington County Fairgrounds, I wanted to capture some oof land around where I was located to give the viewer a sense of being on location.

A zoom lens can be quite effective as well! A tighter cropped shot can fill the entire frame with dramatic sparks and gorgeous colors.

Shutter Speed

If your camera allows you to set it to Bulb, do so. This will allow you to open and close the shutter manually and you determine the time the shutter is spent open. This is great for capturing multiple bursts in one image. If your camera is not equipped with Bulb, anywhere between two and ten seconds can be effective.

Setting your ISO

This is one is quite simple, keep this setting at 100 or 200. The higher the ISO you use the more noise that shows up in your images. Keeping your ISO setting low will prevent this from being an issue.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Shooting in manual mode will give you more control over your settings. Also, consider shooting with manual focus. Autofocusing in low light can be pretty difficult and you may end up missing the shot! Manually focus your lens prior, take a couple of test shots, once you have found that sweet spot you won't have to adjust during the fireworks display (unless you change focal lengths).

Fireworks in the night sky
The 1.6 sec shutter speed captured the light trail of a kid running with a color-changing wand

Experiment & Have Fun!

Experiment with your camera's settings until you get your desired result. Whether that be capturing each firework as it appeared, or having a more artistic approach and getting a blurred effect or using specialty lens (more on those in another post!).

Also, experiment with location and perspective. This can make an image more dynamic and allow the viewer to feel like they were there alongside you at this fireworks display.

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