Photographing fireworks is exciting, high-paced, and a favorite subject for many photographers. Capturing the colorful blasts in the sky requires some patience, technical knowledge, and practice…. but getting that perfect shot always ends up getting some ohhhs and ahhhs from your friends and family.
For the best pyrotechnics photos, use your DSLR or mirrorless camera. You will also need a tripod, cable release, and plenty of memory cards. Spare batteries are recommended because long exposures suck up your battery life. Pack a wide-angle zoom and a telephoto zoom lens in your camera bag.
Let's take a few minutes going over what you need prior to getting that perfect firework shot and what settings you should use to get that shot your friends will be jealous of.
If you can find out where the fireworks will be released, you can look for your shoot location before the day or at least before it gets dark. You might want to include the lights from a cityscape or find an area that won't be too crowded with people. Location scouting is essential when attempting nighttime photography, especially when your shooting window is small like it is with photographing fireworks. Make sure your tripod is set up on a firm, flat surface, so you are ready to shoot the magical moments when the fireworks explode in bursts of color across the night sky.
Dress in light, comfortable clothing because you can potentially be waiting for a long time for the fireworks to be released. While event organizers rarely release fireworks early, they often delay the display due to many factors. That's where your patience comes in…. and the chance to enjoy an extra snow cone or two.
Camera Settings And Composition
Set your camera to manual so you can easily adjust your aperture and shutter speeds. Start with an aperture of f8 or f11. You might try f5.6 and f4 to experiment. Play around and be creative to see which settings work best while keeping inside the f4 to f16 range to maintain sharp focus. Sometimes some creative blur can look beautiful with fireworks photos. Don't be afraid to try different settings and techniques from what we've recommended because there is more than one way to take a great photo of fireworks and no right or wrong way.
Slow shutter speeds for fireworks photos help you document those gorgeous flares of light gracefully dancing across the night sky. Use the bulb setting. This means you will use the cable release to take the photo and control the exposure time. Take the photo as the fireworks explode and hold the cable release until the burst is declining. Or start with 2-3 seconds and increase your exposure time to get the results you want. This takes some practice, so don't expect perfection the first time you tackle fireworks photography.
Fireworks bursts are often fast and furious, so you need to think fast. Other times the fireworks will be released in slower bursts to stretch the show out. In this case, you have more time. They will often start slowly, gain speed for a dramatic effect, and then slow down as the show finishes. This timing is unnoticeable to most people, but once you start shooting fireworks regularly, you will see the patterns and timing. Expensive, high-quality shows will have more precise timing, while less professional shows will just bang and blast away randomly.
Check your images on your screen as you shoot so you can adjust your settings if you are under or overexposing. Overexposing fireworks is common, and you can stop down your aperture with the same shutter speed or push the cable release sooner to improve the shot. If you have underexposed, you can make the opposite adjustments. This kind of photography is challenging as the firework bursts are all different intensities. It takes some practice, but we realize you probably don't see fireworks that often either. That is why it is so satisfying when you nail an epic fireworks show.
If your fireworks composition includes people, buildings or other objects, you will need to expose more carefully. Adjust your settings including aperture, ISO, and/or shutter speed, to achieve the best results. It is recommended to keep ISO within the “safe zone” between 100-1600 to reduce grain and increase image quality,. Remember you can improve the image during the editing process. When you are starting out with fireworks photography, it can be easier to master the fireworks without other elements before moving to more advanced techniques.
As you begin editing, you might realize there is smoke lingering in the sky after the fireworks are released if it's a calm night. That is why your first shots look the clearest and brightest and maybe more in focus.
When you have some experience photographing fireworks and want to challenge yourself, consider shooting from a high point. If you can find a building with a balcony and look down on the fire display, it will create a unique shot. This looks great if you have a lot of bright city lights included in the scene. Another way is with drone photography. Always check the rules for flying your drone at night and in the area you will be operating.
Shooting With People
If you are photographing people in the image, you need a flash to illuminate your subjects. If you are at a wedding and want a photo of the couple with the fireworks in the background, you need to brief them first. Have them ready several minutes before the fireworks are set off. Ask them to look towards the camera and direct them if you want them to kiss or talk. Explain you will give them a thumbs-up signal when you have the shot, then they can turn around and enjoy the fireworks show. You can continue shooting to get images of them watching the fireworks and maybe even some without people. You can also move back and get a wide shot, including guests, as some of the final shots.
Shooting fireworks is exhilarating. You never know what to expect, and it's all over in such a hyped-up flash of beautiful light. Don't set your expectations too high. Enjoy the experience and practice every chance you get. We are standing by to see your fireworks photos!