Dazzling Fireworks Photography :: Digital Photo Secrets

Dazzling Fireworks Photography

by David Peterson 15 comments

Fireworks are fantastic to see in photos but are hard to shoot well. However, there are a number of techniques that can allow you to take some spectacular shots of fireworks. In this video, I'll show you the techniques you can use to take some dazzling fireworks photos.

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Plan in advance

Make sure you have an unobstructed view of the fireworks by arriving well before the show begins. Find a place away from light sources like street lamps or car lights and where people won’t walk in front of you. Finally, make sure you’re upwind of the fireworks display. Fireworks create smoke that will obscure the explosions as the smoke moves towards you. On the other hand, smoke behind the explosions will reflect the light and make a better shot.


    182191565_0537107963_b.jpg by Flickr user kdtop3

    Shutter Speed

    Fireworks photography works best with a slow shutter speed like 1-15 seconds. Because of this long shutter speed, you don't need a high ISO, so set that to 100.

    On your camera, use Shutter Priority mode so you can set a specific speed. If you do want to control the aperture too, set a medium aperture like F8. There's enough light coming from the fireworks that you don't need a wide open aperture.

    If your camera doesn't have a shutter priority mode, look for the fireworks scene mode which will tell your camera to keep the shutter open for a lot longer than normal.

    The idea is to capture both the initial explosion as well as the trails left behind by the burning particles. Anywhere from 1 second to 15 seconds will work. Try a few different options and use what’s best.

    If you can’t control the shutter speed, take LOTS of shots. Use continuous mode to keep the camera shooting. Some of the shots won’t work, but you should get a number of good shots for the night.
    It's essential to use a tripod for fireworks photography because of the long shutter speeds. A tripod will steady your camera so you'll avoid fireworks images with jagged streaks like here.

    Most of the time all fireworks will be the same distance and a fair way away from you. What I like to do is focus on a building or landmark that's around the same distance away as where the fireworks will be, like the pier here. Then I set my camera to manual focus so the camera will take all shots with that preset focus. If you have a point and shoot camera, the fireworks mode will do something similar.

    Turn off the flash

    You won't be needing the light from the flash for these photos. The fireworks have their own light that will be captured by the camera. Turning of flash also helps the camera to realise it's a night time shot, so it will keep the shutter open for longer.

    Framing

    There are a couple of options available to you when framing.

    Try not to get buildings or lights in frame that will distract from the final shot. Unless you're around a famous landmark, like the Disney castle here. In this case, definitely include the landmark as it helps to give context to the fireworks show.

    If you want full-framed shots, you could use a telephoto lens. Keep your tripod head loose and follow the tracer with your viewfinder. Press the shutter when the fireworks explodes making sure to keep the camera still while the shutter is open.

    However, if your camera has over 6 megapixels, it's not necessary to so this. Instead, I zoom out enough to capture the whole scene and lock my tripod there. All I need to worry about then is pressing the shutter when I want to take a shot. The fireworks won't look as big in the frame, but I can crop the image later to highlight just the fireworks. Because I have so many megapixels in the image, the cropped photo will still look great.

    Shoot vertically if you're zooming into just one firework. Alternatively, horizontal framing works better if you want to capture multiple bursts of fireworks in the one shot, of if you include other elements like city buildings.


      3096574067_a90f8504d4_b by Flickr user Robert Linhares

      Use a remote shutter release

      Another tip is to use a remote shutter release if your camera supports it. This is a button on a lead that allows you to tell the camera to take the shot without moving the camera itself. If you use the shutter release on the camera, you can wobble the camera too much and produce unwanted effects. If you don’t have a cable release, you can use the timer function of the camera, but in my experience that makes it too hard to pre-empt a good firework so the shutter is open at the right time. So try this alternate method.

      Set your camera to Bulb mode, which tells your camera to keep the shutter open for as long as you want it to. Or you can choose a really long shutter speed like 1 minute. Place some black cardboard over the lens of the camera, and open the shutter. Then when a firework is about to pop, remove the cardboard and let the camera see the firework. When it's over, quickly replace the cardboard.

      You can then close the shutter, or keep it open and wait for the next firework. The two will then be on the same image.

      If you use this method, remember the framing you set. You'll be mostly looking at the fireworks directly rather than through the lens, so remembering what part of the sky will be captured by the camera is useful for knowing when to remove the cardboard.

      Other Angles

      Remember to shoot more than just the fireworks. Turn the camera around and get some crowd reactions. If you time the shot right, you can use the light of the fireworks to illuminate their faces, and you won't need to use the flash.

      Photoshop

      Once you have your photos, you can easily merge the fireworks together using Image Editing software like Photoshop Elements. It’s a lot easier to produce an image with lots of fireworks if you take lots of images separately and merge them together afterwards on a computer. You can even move the fireworks around to make a more pleasing composition. The quickest way to merge firework images is to paste all fireworks images into different layers and use the “Screen” layer merge option.

      Summary

      To summarise: For your camera, set a low ISO like 100 and a long shutter speed between 1-15 seconds, or bulb mode. Choose Shutter Priority Mode or Fireworks Mode. Preset your focus and then switch to manual focus mode. Turn off the flash. Use a remote shutter and a tripod to minimize shake.

      Plan in advance. Zoom out and crop the fireworks later. Remember where your camera is pointed so you'll know when to press the shutter. Get reactions from crowds. And finally, use Photoshop Elements to merge your fireworks images together.

      Use some of these tips the next time your area has fireworks, and I'm sure you'll have some great photos to share.

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      Comments

      1. Ronald Berman says:

        Hi David,

        Many many thanks for your recent tutorial on Dazzling Fireworks Photography. I've never been able to take good fireworks pics until reading your instructions, which helped me understand the proper camera settings and techniques that one should use to capture fireworks images. Last night I got some great shots of the S.F. fireworks display using this information. I can't thank you enough for helping me achieve this goal.

        Warmest greetings for the New Year,
        Ron Berman

      2. Brian Clampitt says:

        A few years ago I was interested in taking some firework photos and did some research, I remember your site saying to use 100 iso, manual focus - setting the focus prior to the fireworks starting, use a tripod, and use a shutter release in the bulb mode. What I found was to press the shutter release when the fireworks started to burst and release the shutter release when the fireworks had reached its peak or maximum bloom (this is usually a 3 to 6 seconds exposure). I attended an international fireworks competition in Calgary and the resulting photos were amazing. The only advice I would add is to use a high speed, high capacity memory card - the fireworks can be shot continuously and fast, I overloaded the card a few times and missed some fireworks.

      3. Linda MacGillivray says:

        Thanks for the great tutorial on fireworks....I was wondering if shooting in RAW format would be a hinderance or a help in capturing great firework displays....?

        • David Peterson says:

          Hi Linda,

          If you can, I always recommend saving in both RAW and JPG. That way, you have the JPGs for quick viewing and sharing, and also the RAW files to enhance your best fireworks images.

          David.

      4. Sundaralingam says:

        Lessions about fireworks video will be an asset when we had Canada day fire wors and USA July 4 indupendance day fire works.

      5. Lyn says:

        David, I simply love the tips you have generously been sharing online, with us. I am hoping they will assist me on my overseas trip this year. I do have one question on shooting laser light at night. I will be in Hong Kong and I am unsure if I would need a faster shutter setting when shooting the nightly Laser Light Show on the Harbour, any tips please. I will be using a tripod and a remote shutter release, they became a must have following your advise. I have recently upgraded to the Nikon D5200 (purchased months before the trip became an option). I will have time to experiment as I will be on hand, in a great location for four nights in Kowloon. Hopefully the weather will be kind, at least one night. I put your advice into practice, using both the remote shutter release and tripod, during our last Lunar Eclipse. While not perfect, I was pleased with the results. Both tools make an enormous difference. Thank you.

      6. Jenny Willis says:

        Happy New Year to you David. A lot of what you have sent me I already knew. Great information though. One can always pick up something new. Question, when photographing the Northern lights would you use the same setting etc as you suggest for the fireworks?

        Have a great 2015
        Cheers

        Jenny

      7. Robbert says:

        Tonite Im going to one of the most fantastic fireworks (Madeira island) which a couple of years ago won the 1st prize worldwide. Ill apply your tips gratefully

      8. Diane Meyer says:

        Your timely tutorial inspired me to get out and take fireworks pictures on our lake. I went early enough to gain good focus then switched off the auto focus. With the ISO and f-stop settings as recommended, I was amazed to realize the wonderful compositions come from merged bursts from multiple rocket launchings. The reflections on the water were stunning and I now have a new series to add to my portfolio. Thanks!

      9. Mirta says:

        Thanks David, I have learned a lot and improved my photographas quality with your tips and secrets.Thankyou!

      10. Darryl says:

        Thank you for this posting. Two years ago I started with a point n shoot thingy, it was hilarious to shoot with and oh the messy pictures. What a sordid joke that was. This year I hope to do better and a little bit more of a "real-feel" camera this time. Thanks for the coaching Dave.

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      Difficulty:
      Beginner
      Length:
      9 minutes
      About David Peterson
      David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.