How To Shoot Great Fireworks

fireworks-photography-tipsThese days there seems to be a firework display at almost every outdoor event, and there are also plenty of other opportunities which you can use to perfect your Firework technique. The unpredictable nature of the position, color and shape of each firework explosion means that no two shots will ever look the same. But follow our advice and you’ll be able to get some stunning fireworks shots.

Capturing the spectacle of a firework display is all about predicting when and where the most dramatic events are going to take place. Try to find out where the main display at your event will be taking place, and where the fireworks will be fired from. To capture the wider view of large public displays it’s often best to avoid the most popular spots close to the action. At popular events you’ll struggle to find enough room to set up your tripod – a necessity to shoot the display – and you’ll also often be too close to the action. It’s much better to find a spot that gives you a viewpoint over the whole display, to allow you to capture as many of the individual fireworks as possible. It’s worth going back to the busier areas if you want to try some portraits of family and friends around the fire though.

When searching for a place to shoot the display, look out for things to use to enhance your images. Flood-lit buildings are great for giving a sense of place, while water can create amazing reflections to add an extra element to your pictures. Unless you’ve been to the same display before, trying to predict where many of the fireworks are going to explode can be tricky. Some rockets can go hundreds of feet in the air before they create their light show. The wide-angle end of a standard zoom will give a broad enough view for most displays, but if you have one it’s worth taking a wider lens just in case the rockets go much higher. While the results can be pretty hit or miss, the unpredictability can lead to some great results. Don’t expect every shot to be a winner and make sure you shoot plenty!

If there’s a fire (or floodlights) near to the fireworks display you can include the light from this to give your shots an extra glow, rather than simply recording the fireworks against a black sky. As the subject is much brighter than the surroundings the exposure times are a little more hit or miss than for just the fireworks themselves, so experiment with shutter speeds and aperture settings.

How to set up your shots

The intermittent and unpredictable nature of fireworks means that the automatic exposure systems will rarely give you good results. Instead you’ll need to set the camera to manual exposure mode and set the shutter speed and aperture yourself. As it will be dark then bright as the fireworks explode, it’s also very difficult to use the metering to gauge the exposure needed. Although you’re working ‘in the dark’ when it comes to exposure it’s not as difficult as it first appears, as there are some handy tricks that will help you to get the results spot-on.

Using a Tripods

You’ll need a longer shutter speed to capture several bursts than if there are loads of fireworks going off in quick succession. For most displays a shutter speed of between 8 seconds and 30 seconds will give you plenty of action. Your shutter speeds will run into several seconds, so you’ll need to put the camera on a tripod and release the shutter using the self-timer, or ideally a remote release to combat camera shake.

Select manual exposure

The light will vary from almost pitch-black to bright during your exposures, so you need to select the manual exposure option and ignore any reading from the metering. With very little light you’ll find that the auto-focus will struggle, so set the camera to manual focus. As you’ll be some distance from the subject set the focus on the lens to infinity. The shutter speed is more about the number of bursts that you capture than the exposure of the result. When it comes to ISO, set the camera to the lowest ISO possible lo minimize noise. You can try fast settings such as ISO 800 or 1600 to allow you to shoot portraits using the glow of the bonfire, but expect plenty of noise or grain.

Aperture & shutter speeds

With the camera set to ISO 100 you should try exposures at apertures of f/8 and f/16. As a guide, if you’re close to the fireworks use f/16 and if you’re shooting from a distance use mainly f/8. If you’re using ISO 200 then set f/22 for close subjects and f/16 for distant displays. The shutter speeds are less critical than the aperture for the brightness of your image, but they do affect how many bursts and how much of the display you will record in a single frame.

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About the Author
Gary is a Digital Photographer and Editor of, a free resource site providing enthusiasts with tips, tricks and tutorials.

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