Do you want to know how to photograph fireworks? You’ve come to the right place! These awe-inspiring, colorful bursts of light in the sky make perfect subjects to photograph. But they can be a challenge for even seasoned photographers to capture. We’ve gathered a few fireworks photography tips. With the right gear, some basic settings, and a bit of trial and error, you’ll be photographing fireworks in no time.
The Best Camera and Lenses for Photographing Fireworks
To shoot fireworks, you need a camera that allows you to shoot in manual mode. You’ll also want one that will allow you to change the lens. Good choices include DSLRs, like the Canon 6D Mark II, which has a stellar reputation for performing well in low light, or mirrorless models like the Sony a7R III.
Use either a wide angle or a telephoto zoom lens when taking pictures of fireworks. The lens you use is going to depend on your location, how far away the fireworks display is, and whether you want to include any of the environment in your image. If you want a tight shot that shows detail, choose a long zoom lens, like a 70-200mm.
However, if you plan to compose fireworks shots that include the skyline or landscape, use a wide angle lens or a zoom with a wide range, like a 24-70mm.
A zoom lens is ideal in a crowd. You can recompose your shots without having to actually move. If you’re not sure what focal length to choose, shoot wide. You can always crop your images later, especially if you’re using a camera that produces very large files to work with.
A tripod is necessary when photographing fireworks. It’s especially important to use a tripod when shooting fireworks because you may be using long shutter speeds to capture full explosion sets. Any movement of your camera will get captured, too, so stabilization is key. For the same reason, we recommend using a remote shutter release. Even the motion of pressing and releasing the shutter on your camera can cause enough camera shake to be noticeable in your image.
Camera Settings for Shooting Fireworks
Set the ISO to your camera’s lowest setting. Since you’ll be taking long exposure photos, a low ISO will help eliminate noise. For most cameras, you can set your ISO to 100.
Use a small aperture, around f/8 – f/11. While it seems contradictory to use a small aperture for night photography, remember that fireworks are actually very bright explosions! Couple that with the fact that you’re using long exposure and your images will be properly exposed with a smaller aperture.
When shooting fireworks, your shutter speed requires the most trial-and-error. In order to capture the entire burst of the fireworks, you’ll need a long exposure. That means a long shutter speed, usually between 4 and 10 seconds. Another option is to set your camera to bulb mode. This will allow you to hold the shutter open for as long as you hold the shutter button (preferably with a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake). The bulb mode technique works especially well because you can open the shutter just before the burst explodes and release the shutter when it’s finished.
Disable your camera’s flash, you won’t need it when shooting fireworks.
Turn off the autofocus on your lens. Your camera will try (with difficulty) to focus on the night sky each time you press the shutter button. Instead, set your lens’ focus to infinity by setting your lens to MF, or manual focus, and then turning the focus ring all the way until you see the infinity symbol (∞). If your lens doesn’t have infinity focus, you can turn on aut-focus temporarily, set your focus on the moon, and then turn autofocus back off. Just remember to reset this focus if you change the focal length.
Tips on How to Photograph Fireworks
Location, Location, Location
If you’re planning to shoot fireworks, arrive early and scout out the perfect spot. Think about what landmarks you might want to include in your shots. Are the fireworks near a large body of water? Do you want to be up front and avoid the crowd, or do you want to be a bit further back and include people in your composition? Arriving early also gives you a chance to set up your gear while it’s still light outside.
Vertical or Horizontal
Will you compose your shots as a portrait or landscape? A portrait can be especially dramatic if there is a lot of vertical motion in the display. Landscapes are great for shots that include the environment or multiple bursts.
Avoid the Smoke
Find out beforehand which direction the wind is blowing and try to position yourself upwind from the blowing smoke. You’ll be more comfortable and your firework photos will be less hazy.
Vary Your Shots and Get Creative
Try shooting horizontally, vertically, zoomed in, wide, and from different perspectives. Hold the shutter open for a few bursts. Photograph the people. Remember, shooting fireworks is not an exact science. Experiment until you’re happy with the results.
Don’t Forget Post-Processing
If you really want to make your photos pop, take advantage of the ability to edit them after the fireworks display is over. You can boost the contrast, make the sky a deeper black, or increase the saturation so the colors are even bolder and brighter.
Fireworks represent celebration and bring joy to so many. By learning how to photograph fireworks using the tips and techniques we’ve provided, you’ll be prepared to capture frame-worthy memories for holidays like Fourth of July.