How to Nail the Best Fireworks Photos

May 27, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Part 1: Best Camera Settings for Firework Setup Photo Shoot
 

I have taken photos of fireworks for many years.  My early years were on film and slides and I had to wait a week to 10 days to see the results.  Eventually, there was same-day film processing and that helped, but did not reduce the cost.  What savings we have with digital where we can instantly see the outcome on the back of our cameras and the cost savings and time savings for not having to send the film out for processing.

With that in mind, don't worry if some of what you try does not work out.  However, this series of blog posts will be mirroring my YouTube releases so you can read this blog and also hear my explanations, and if you follow my suggestions your chances of getting some cool fireworks photos will be good.

This post is going to go over the settings I use for my camera when taking photographs of fireworks (which will also work on capturing moving lights in traffic or similar situations.  Also, this is part 1 of a 4-part series, so make sure to read all 4 posts to get more.

The first thing to understand is that in this situation manual mode is the best way to take night photos.  The camera technology is unable to properly expose the light you are trying to capture due to the constant change in light and color.  We will also be doing longer exposures and will make adjustments during the shoot.  If anything is automatic, it will be trying to compensate for any effect we attempt.  So, 100% manual mode including ISO and focus.

You can practice prior to the big show with night street photography to capture moving tail lights or headlights or even a light in a dark room in your house.  This will help you set up your camera beforehand as well.

I have used a variety of settings and techniques and this first in a series of four blog posts is covering the standard fireworks shot that you see most often.  This post will also be the supporting base for posts 2, 3, and 4.  If you only read part 1 that is fine, but you will have more fun if you make it through all four. 

Equipment needed:

  • Camera with a long shutter speed option 5 seconds or longer.  Most DLSRs have up to 30 seconds and a "BULB" option to allow you to hold the shutter open as long as you like.
  • Wide lens 18-24 is a common kit lens and works well.
  • Tripod.  With the long shutter speeds, we need a tripod to stabilize the shot.
  • Bug spray (at least where I live - the insects can make for an unpleasant event.
  • Lint-free cloth to wipe your lens if condensation settles on the lens (I live in a high humidity area and the cloth can save the day).
  • Remote shutter release (optional)

Settings for the photos.  I highly recommend you test and try many settings and make your own adjustments.

  • ISO at 100.  I generally do not change the ISO off of 100 for any of my fireworks or other night light photography.
  • Aperture - let's just say high.  I am generally in the F8.0 to F11 (or higher) for almost all my firework photos.
    My reasoning is for a more forgiving depth of field.
  • Shutter speed is the one I vary the most.  I go anywhere from about 5 seconds to 30 seconds and sometimes even longer.
  • Focus set to manual.  For the photoshoot move the focus ring to infinity and back of about 1/8 of an inch for the best focus.
  • Small lens.  Most kit lens ranges work great (18-35 mm)
  • Camera timer set at 2 seconds if you have that option.  This minimizes camera movement from the push on the shutter button.

Setup

  • Bring a blanket to sit on and also give you some space.  Just be kind to those around you.
  • What I found interesting is that it is okay to be amongst the crowd with some low-level light pollution.  You are shooting into the sky and the small amount of light will not be a big impact on the photos if at all.
  • In contrast to the previous comment if you prefer to not disturb others some isolation can be helpful.
  • Get to the location early enough to pick out your spot so you aren't stuck behind a building that will be in all your photos.
  • If your wide lens has a range, start wide enough to find where the fireworks will be in the sky.

Most fireworks displays on July 4th are last about 20 minutes, so you have plenty of time to take many photos.  As I mentioned above, I adjust the shutter speed more than any other setting.  I recommend you start at 10-second shutter speeds while you are adjusting.  Ten seconds is short enough if you need to adjust your tripod it won't waste a lot of time.  Once you have your camera aimed and settled on the tripod then try setting for longer or shorter shutter speeds.  Once you are getting some decent shots try to frame the fireworks by zooming in on the lens for tighter shots to fill the frame more.

There you go, now you have all the information needed to set up for basic fireworks or night light photoshoots.

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Links to the other parts of this series.

Part 1: How to Nail the Best Fireworks Photos
Part 1 on YouTube

Part 2: How to Take Erratic Camera Movement Shots with Fireworks
Part 2 on YouTube

Part 3: How to Take Intentional Camera Movement Shots with Fireworks
Part 3 on YouTube

Part 4: How to take Zooming Photo Shots with Fireworks
Part 4 on YouTube coming on June 17

 


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I am glad you found my blog.  I am a photographer with a passion for awesome shots.  I go to great lengths to capture many of my photos.  I will re-visit a location over and over knowing there is a spectacular photo just waiting to be had if I am there at the right time.   I also enjoy finding how to do some abstract projects (check out my time-lapse post) and will be writing about them.

Send me a note via my contact page for some projects you would like to see me try and write about.  I am not afraid to try almost any project.  Doing the obscure forces me to do things that I don't do with the typical photo shoot and helps me learn even more.


 
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