How to Shoot Fireworks Plus 9 Other Summer Photography Tips

How to Shoot Fireworks Plus 9 Other Summer Photography Tips

We’re kicking off summer with a collection of helpful photography tutorials! From how to shoot fireworks to standing out from the crowd at iconic landmarks, we’ll give you tips on settings, gear, and shooting positions!

Photographers on a pier shooting fireworks

Tip #1: How to Shoot Fireworks

A good set of “starter settings” for fireworks:

Set your camera to a lower ISO, between 100-400. That seems counter intuitive since a high ISO is more light sensitive but the low ISO will keep the image from getting too noisy. It also offsets, exposure-wise, your slower shutter speed which we discuss next.

Set your camera to a slow shutter speed, like 1/15th of a second.  A slower shutter speed will capture the light trails – you don’t want your fireworks to look unnaturally pasted-in to your scene. There should be some sense of motion. Choose an aperture between f/8 and f/16 to maximize sharpness.

These settings are not fool-proof. They are just a great starting point for you to dial in and get shooting right away. You will certainly need to adjust them according to taste. We recommend adjusting one setting at a time (shutter is a good place to start so that you can achieve the right amount of motion).

Read more in 8 Beginner Tips for Photographing Fireworks

Four People Writing the Word Love with Sparklers

Tip #2: How to Shoot Words with Sparklers

This is a super fun activity to do with the kids or a group of friends. First, make sure your camera is stabilized and in “bulb” mode. This will keep the shutter open for as long as you want. If you do not have bulb mode (a lot of point and shoot cameras don’t), start with an exposure that is 30 seconds long.

While in manual focus mode, prefocus your lens on the area where people will be light writing (have someone stand in position ahead of time). Start your exposure and have your subjects start writing (have everyone stand in backward order to write their individual letters). Since this is a long exposure, you won’t have to have a super sensitive ISO or wide-open aperture. Start somewhere in the middle on both: ISO 200-400 and f/5.6 or f/8 aperture.

Read more in 4th of July Photography Tips for Beginners.

Group of fireworks along the coast

Tip #3: How to Shoot Fireworks Grouped Together

This is an expansion of the “How to Shoot Fireworks” tip. Most of the time, people are seeking multiple fireworks in one shot. To achieve this, you need to capture the entire burst of the fireworks – not just the first one or two fired. That means a long shutter speed, usually between 4 and 10 seconds. Another option is to set your camera to bulb mode (as with our sparkler example). 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.

Read more in Tips for How to Photograph Fireworks.

Photoshop scene showing 3 layers of different fireworks masked out

There is also the option to stack your individual fireworks shots in post processing. Landscape photographers sometimes use the Multiple Exposure Blending technique in Photoshop to mix two or more images of wildly different exposures to get the preferred highs and lows for a perfectly-exposed scene (handy for mixing bright skies with dark forests, for example). You can do something similar with fireworks. Load your favorite fireworks shots into Photoshop or GIMP, stack them into individual layers, add a layer mask to each, and mask out the portions using a white or black paintbrush to “paint away” the parts you do or don’t want. It’s good practice for working with layers. Read more about this process in High Dynamic Range vs Multiple Exposure Blending Editing for Photographers.

photographer in a national park

Tip #4: How to Film or Photograph in Amusement and National Parks

Some amusement parks have limits on how big of a lens you can bring. This is nebulous but typically it means anything that’s a 70-200mm or larger may be frowned upon. They also have restrictions on full-size (or any) tripods. This is to stop pros from photographing the amusement park without a permit or public relations person present. Visit the parks’ media/press page to find out what you can shoot.

For the National Parks system, still photographers rarely need a permit – even with giant lenses. Videographers have to jump through more hoops and it’s possible you’ll need a permit even if shooting non-commercial footage. Examples of non-commercial filming include things like filming for tourism bureaus, convention and visitor bureaus, and student filming. If you decide to turn on your camera to capture some footage of, say, bears walking down the road, you probably won’t need a filming permit.

Read more in A Guide to Filming and Photography Permits for the National Park System and Top 10 Tips for Amazing Amusement Park Photography.

Photographer at Clingmans Dome

Tip #5: How to Get the Best Shot in a National Park

The best landscape shots are typically taken very early in the morning just as sunrise occurs or in the late afternoon hours just before sunset. This is known as golden hour. You get it twice a day for about an hour, give or take.

Read more in Tips and Inspiration for Photographing National Parks and Etiquette for Taking Photos in National Parks

These shots are so pretty because the sun is low in the sky and more diffuse (and redder) than normal thanks to having to be filtered for a greater distance through the atmosphere. At golden hour, you won’t get the kind of harsh shadows you see at high noon.

Mold inside lens

Tip #6: How to Keep Your Gear Clean and Safe

Summer and winter have the biggest temperature shifts when going from indoors to outdoors and vice versa. Condensation will occur and over time could hurt your camera or mold your lens. Here is how to combat that:

• Put your camera and lens in a plastic bag when going from AC to humid outdoor weather. Condensation will collect on the bag instead of your camera.
• Use silica gel packets in your camera bag to absorb moisture from the air.
• Let your gear gradually adjust to the new temperature – approximately 30 minutes before you begin shooting.

Read more in How to Keep Your Camera Gear Clean and Safe this Summer.

Photographer in Petra

Tip #7: How to Get a Unique Shot of a Popular Landmark

Thousands of tourists will be clamoring to get nearly the same shot of an iconic attraction. Don’t be one of them! Try one of these fun tips to get a shot that is unique and personal to you:

• When up on a vista, add something simple to the foreground of your frame to enhance interest and provide context.
• Ignore the Rule of Thirds and other composition rules. Break the mold with center placement and other interesting framing experiments.
• Find a unique vantage point, even if it’s really far away from the landmark.
• Use reflections to your advantage.

Read more in Alternative Ways To Photograph Iconic Landmarks.

group of photographers talking with photography lighting tools in the sun

Tip #8: How to Get the Most Out of the Sun

There is an optimal amount of sunlight for photography and, believe it or not, super sunny summer days do not provide it! Stick to the aforementioned golden hours for the best results. Hope for a few overcast days – these allow for all-day shooting in very balanced light with even shadows. Colors pop really well against overcast skies and you’ll have more fun with editing in post production. If this is not in the forecast then head for the shade when shooting at noon.

Read more in The Sun: A Photographer’s Ultimate Lighting Source

Backlit woman outside in the sun

Tip #9: How to Backlight Your Subject

To get that summery, ethereal backlit look for your subjects this summer, use spot metering and meter only for your subject. Make sure they are placed directly in front of your light source, weather that’s a sunset or a strobe. Use a single point/center focusing area so that your AF doesn’t get too confused where the subject is when bathed in so much light (or stick to manual focus).

Read more in Tips for Shooting Backlit Portraits.

Use a reflector to bounce light into your subject’s face. Your subject will be exposed and your environment should be overexposed. Play with their position to get the optimal amount of flare or hazing.

photographer taking picture of woman outside with assistant holding reflector

Tip #10: How to Get Portraits at High Noon

A good formula if you’re stuck shooting during the least photogenic time of day is to find a location where you can have big open sky behind you and the sun behind the subject, but filtered through dark scenery – like trees. As with backlighting, you’ll need a reflector. Remember, you don’t have to have a fancy tool to have a reflector. White poster board will work!

Read more in 6 Easy Summer Photography Shooting Tips.

Most photographers enjoy shooting in the fall and spring seasons but summer is a popular time to be with family and friends, making memories on vacations. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to still get very artful results even while on the go in harsh light. You’ll also have a much better idea of how to shoot fireworks. You can rent cameras and lenses from Borrowlenses, which allows you to save wear and tear on your own gear or gives you something new and exciting to try out!

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Alex Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. See her lighting tutorials here. She is a Marketing Associate Manager at She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. Before focusing on studio portraiture, she shot motorsports for X-Games, World Rally Cross, and Formula Drift. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.

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