How to Take Pictures of Fireworks

Since the 4th of July—Independence Day—is today up in the U.S., it’s a good time to review the basics of photographing fireworks for the shows tonight. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to preserve memories of those wonderful displays.

Scout Your Location

This is one time that being close is not an advantage. Try to find an elevation some distance away that will give you a vantage point for something besides the sky bursts. Water is a great choice. You’ll get a secondary reflection off the surface that adds depth and echoes the colors in the sky. City lights would be another good choice.

fireworks photography foreground

photo by John Fowler

Keep a watch out for distinctive foreground shapes that you might use the fireworks to silhouette or frame. If you have a fill flash along the effect can be quite dramatic.

Bring Your Tripod

Hand held is a no-go for fireworks photography. The exposure times are just too long to get a decent image hand held.

Try to show up at your location early so that you still have enough time to check your framing and level with the horizon. At times like these having a bubble level on your tripod really pays for itself.

photographing a fireworks display

photo by ok, shawna

Keep in mind that, unless you’ve been to that spot before and know the terrain, you might have to shift your frame depending on the altitude the display operators are using for the shells. I mark preset points with a grease pencil above and below and left and right of my preferred frame. That way I don’t have to guess in the dark, I can simply move to the next preset. If you can, set preset marks for both horizontal and vertical framing.

Remote Release

You’ll also want to use your remote release on the “B” or bulb setting. Trying to hold the release button will invite camera shake, even on a tripod.


A lot of people think you need a fast lens to photography fireworks but in my experience, an aperture of f/8 to f/16 usually works just fine as a starting point. Fireworks are particularly bright, so you don’t need a fast lens and lower f-stop to get the best results.

Start at f/8, and adjust if necessary.


Same story with the ISO. Using a higher ISO will just invite over-exposure of the shell bursts. Start at ISO 100 and adjust after the first couple if necessary.

Remember, you’re not striving for perfect exposure, you’re striving for the perfect fireworks shot. Sometimes those poorly exposed frames make the best shots.

The Technique

Depending on how much ambient light is left in the night sky, usually you just open the shutter before the launch and close it after the burst trails off. This is where you can start having fun.

Don’t be afraid to vary the number of bursts in one shot from just one or two to leaving the shutter open for three or four. Sometimes you’ll over-expose one, no big deal. Adjust as necessary for the conditions.

Mainly just have fun. Photography can be stressful and this is one of those rare opportunities to just break all the rules while you enjoy the show.

About the Author:
Peter Timko writes for, an online photography school offering a variety of courses.

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  1. thrisula says:

    thank you very much for tutorials….this tips is very nice for photography student..

  2. Gary says:

    Great piece Pete. I recently wrote a piece aimed at non-professionals about firework photography in time for Bonfire night (I’m UK based) myeslf. ISO and aperture are hard to explain to those using a phone or a basic snappy digital camera. One thing I added that wasn’t mentioned here was trying to position away from the smoke’s direction for a clearer photo. Multishot options are handy too as it means more chances of getting a great shot (or even an interesting .gif if you fancy it later!).

    My piece is here, would love it if you could check it out Peter:



  3. Wonderful advice. The first tip was especially helpful to me. For some reason I didn’t think of that myself but you positioning is super important for any photo. Thank you!

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