Want to know how to photograph fireworks like a pro? Looking to take your firework photography to the next level?
You’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I share everything you ever wanted to know about creating stunning firework photos – so that, by the time you’ve finished reading, you’re ready to capture gorgeous images. Specifically, I share:
- The best settings for firework photography
- Essential firework photo gear
- A simple way to prevent image blur
- Much more!
Let’s dive right in, starting with my first tip:
1. Use a tripod to keep your camera still
If you want to create sharp firework shots, you need to keep your camera perfectly still.
In other words, you must use a good tripod.
Fireworks happen at night, which means that you’ll be working with very little light and very long shutter speeds (more on this later!). Even the smallest amount of camera shake will create a blurry shot, so a rock-solid tripod is essential.
Make sure that you set up your tripod on stable ground, and be sure to shield it from any wind. If you don’t own a tripod, you can buy a decent travel tripod for cheap, or you can make do with an alternative (such as the ground or a table).
2. Use a remote release to further reduce camera shake
Even once you’ve mounted your camera on a solid tripod, camera shake can be caused when you press down on the shutter button – which is where a remote release comes in handy.
You see, a remote release connects wirelessly to your camera and lets you trigger the shutter from a distance. You never touch the actual camera; instead, when you’re ready to shoot, you simply use the remote!
Remote releases are pretty cheap, but if you don’t own one and you prefer not to buy one, you can always use your camera’s two-second self-timer. It’s not super convenient because you’ll need to anticipate the fireworks bursts, but it’ll get the job done.
3. Anticipate the best compositions
One of the most difficult parts of photographing fireworks is working out where to aim your camera. The challenge is that you generally need to compose before the fireworks actually burst, so anticipation is key. Here are a few quick tips to help you select compositions in advance:
- Scope out the location. If you can arrive at the location an hour or so in advance, you can spend time thinking about foreground and background elements. Take note of firework setup locations, and carefully consider the parts of the sky that will likely be covered in fireworks. (If you’re not sure, you might want to ask some of the staff members.) Consider the focal lengths you might want to use and choose appropriate lenses in advance.
- Decide whether to shoot vertical or horizontal. You can capture fireworks vertically (portrait orientation) or horizontally (landscape orientation). Both can work for fireworks photography, but I personally prefer a vertical perspective – after all, there’s a lot of vertical firework movement! Horizontal shots are nice if you’re after an expansive shot using a wide-angle lens, however.
- Remember your framing. Once you’ve found a nice composition, do what you can to commit it to memory. If you need to take a few reference photos or you want to do a quick sketch of the scene, go for it. That way, when you’re setting up your camera before the action begins, you know exactly where to place your camera and precisely where to angle it for a great shot!
4. Experiment with different focal lengths
Firework photography comes with a major dilemma:
On the one hand, you can use a telephoto lens (such as a 70-200mm), which will get you detailed shots of the fireworks but is difficult to use. With a long lens, you’ll need to keep your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time, and it can be easy to miss.
On the other hand, you can use a wide-angle lens (such as a 24-70mm), which will capture the entire skyline but won’t offer lots of detail. Wide-angle lenses feature great “safety” focal lengths because you can generally trust that they’ll include the fireworks in the scene, even if the results aren’t quite as impactful as you might like.
So which lens should you use? I’d recommend working primarily with a wide-angle zoom. Then, once you’ve grabbed a few wide-angle shots that you like, switch over to your telephoto lens and see if you can nail some close-ups.
Of course, if your camera offers enough resolution, you do have the option to crop afterward – just bear that in mind!
5. Use smaller apertures for the best fireworks photography
The lens aperture controls the image depth of field – that is, whether the scene features a small sliver of sharpness (shallow depth of field) or whether the scene is sharp throughout (deep depth of field).
But what aperture is right for photographing fireworks?
If you’re capturing fireworks that are far off in the distance and you have no foreground subjects, then you can get away with pretty much any aperture, from wide options like f/2.8 to narrow options like f/16.
However, if your composition features foreground elements or the fireworks are relatively close to your position, then you’ll want to use a narrow aperture (anywhere between f/8 and f/16 is good).
The narrower aperture will widen the depth of field, ensuring that the fireworks and the rest of the scene will turn out sharp.
6. Use a longer shutter speed (but don’t let it go too long!)
Fireworks are a moving subject, and the shutter speed deals with subject motion. So if you want to get great firework shots, you must choose the perfect shutter speed.
Now, fireworks leave beautiful light trails, and you can capture this with a longer shutter speed. However, you don’t want to let the shutter go for too long. Fireworks are bright, and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with lots of clipped highlights in your frames.
An easy method to handle this is by switching your camera over to Bulb mode. Once in Bulb mode, the shutter will remain open for as long as you hold down the shutter button (or the shutter release).
When a firework is about to explode, you can hit the shutter button. And you can hold down the button until the explosion is finished.
7. Use a low ISO for the cleanest shots
High ISOs create brighter exposures, but they also create noise, which reduces image quality and looks plain bad.
So whenever possible, use your camera’s lowest native ISO setting. And only raise the ISO if your exposures are turning out too dark.
As I mentioned above, fireworks tend to be very bright, so you probably won’t need to raise your ISO. I’d recommend setting it on ISO 100 and letting it sit unless it absolutely needs a boost.
8. Switch off your flash
It’s simple, really:
An on-camera flash (or even an off-camera flash) can only illuminate the area a handful of meters in front of you. Therefore, a flash cannot affect a firework, and turning on your camera’s flash will only serve to waste battery.
Plus, if your camera uses a flash metering system, an active flash will cause the fireworks to come out dark. And constant flashing may even frustrate other folks trying to watch the fireworks.
So switch your flash off. And use the long-exposure technique I discussed above!
9. Use manual focusing for sharp shots
Mirrorless autofocus systems are better than ever before – yet focusing in low light still causes cameras to struggle. Plus, refocusing on each new burst of fireworks takes time, which may ultimately cause you to miss the shot.
Therefore, instead of trying to autofocus, switch your lens over to manual focus.
Then, when you see the first burst of fireworks, manually adjust the focus ring until the scene appears sharp. Take a test shot, and be sure to zoom in on your LCD screen to make sure it looks good.
Once you’ve acquired perfect focus, simply leave it alone for the rest of the fireworks show, and the results will turn out great (especially if you’re using a narrow aperture!).
One note: Changing focal lengths will change the plane of focus on most lenses, so if you zoom in or out, you should check your point of focus (and re-focus if necessary).
10. Experiment and evaluate your results
As you shoot, don’t be afraid to experiment with different compositions and ideas! For instance, you might zoom in for a tighter perspective, zoom out for a wider perspective, change your angle, include people or buildings in the frame, and much more.
Also, periodically check your results for perfect sharpness, composition, and exposure.
I recommend taking a few photos at the start of the photoshoot. Review them on your LCD. If they look good, then keep going (and if they look bad, make the necessary adjustments!). Be sure to view your shots throughout the shoot to make sure you haven’t messed up in some significant way.
Firework photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to create stunning photos of fireworks.
So remember these tips. Carefully adjust your camera settings. And take some beautiful shots!
Now over to you:
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? What fireworks will you photograph? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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