Shedding Light On Fireworks Photography

July in the United States means vacations, hot weather and celebrating independence. On or around the 4th there will be a myriad of fireworks displays across the country. These displays make for fantastic photographs—I'll show you how:

1. Tripod
A sturdy tripod is essential for our purpose as we need to take a much longer exposure than normal to capture the fireworks. No matter how steady you think your hands are, they are not steady enough.

2. Remote Release
This insures that our camera doesn't have any movement during our long exposure. Remote release of the shutter on your camera can be accomplished through a cable release or remote trigger. These are available for nearly every camera make, model and manufacturer.

3. Frame Your Shot
You'll want to arrive early to make sure you can set up in a location that will create a dynamic and beautiful scene for your photographs. It's important to have your camera set up before the show starts as it will be much more difficult to frame and set things up in the dark. Depending on the type of image you'd like to create, keep in mind foreground and background elements when you're framing your shot. Experiment with "painting" light on your foreground elements with a flashlight during your long exposure for a dramatic contrast in the final image.

4. Camera Settings
Your milage may vary on camera settings depending on many factors the night of the shoot. Fortunately, fireworks displays last for some time so you'll have the opportunity to check the back of your camera and make adjustments during the show. Here is my list of recommended settings to use as a starting point:

  • Check your camera's Mode - Some cameras have a "Fireworks Mode" where you can just follow your camera's manual for instructions and be all set. For most you'll want to be in Manual Mode.
  • Set your lens' focal length to infinity - Our fireworks in the distance will be in focus
  • Turn off your lens' image stabilization feature - IS (for Canon), VR (for Nikon)
  • ISO 200 - For low digital noise in our final image
  • Aperture set to f/11-f/22 - To make sure our image is sharp all the way through
  • Turn off your flash - There's no need for a flash with fireworks photography
  • Long Shutter Time - if using a trigger or release, switch your camera to Bulb Mode. This will open the shutter on the first press and close it on the next. If your camera doesn't have a Bulb Mode feature pick an exposure length depending on the number of firework bursts you'd like to capture.
  • Experiment
    Depending on how your first few images come out you'll want to adjust the settings above and play with the Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO until you're getting the images you are satisfied with.

Have any other tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Grab your camera and tripod, the 4th is coming up quick!