With next month being July (where did the last 6 months go already??), I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tips for photographing fireworks. The 4th of July is always a fun holiday – I think it’s the law here in Massachusetts. There are cookouts, parties, concerts, and celebrations happening all over the state (and the country!). The fireworks celebrations usually start on July 1st around here, and go through the holiday weekend, so we have lots of opportunities to play with getting fun and creative shots.
Shooting fireworks can be pretty simple once you are all set up – unlike the children and families I photograph during the year, there is no chasing anyone around, or trying to coax into looking at the camera! The light isn’t changing all that much, and you don’t need to worry about finding a good spot of open shade or backlit field. Once you have your setup ready to go, you can sit back and relax, and enjoy the show with your friends and family.
Two pieces of equipment I find most essential to photographing fireworks (aside from my camera and lens of choice) are a tripod and a remote. These both help to keep your camera stable and not moving while you are shooting. You will be working with long shutter speeds. Having your camera locked onto a secure tripod and using a remote so you don’t even need to touch your camera while taking the shot will both help ensure tack sharp photos. If you don’t have a tripod, you can also try any type of platform that will keep your camera from shaking – a shelf, table, stack of books, whatever you think will work best.
2. Camera Settings
Again, much unlike photographing kids & families, once you get these set, you’re pretty much good to go. Sure, you can fine-tune or change them up depending on your mood, but in general, once you have the settings you want, you can leave them there for the entire show. I always shoot using all manual settings, which I’ve listed below.
As I mentioned above, you’ll be shooting with a slow shutter speed. Some photographers like to shoot fireworks in “bulb” mode (meaning the shutter stays open for as long as you depress the shutter button – on the camera itself, or the remote shutter button), but you can play around with what works best for you. I like to leave my shutter open for 3-5 seconds, it depends on the ambient light in the situation for me.
Typically, your aperture will be somewhere between F8 and F16 – setting the aperture this high will help keep other things in your photo sharp, and will help prevent overexposing the image. Yes, you can overexpose an image shot in the near-dark! Fireworks can be a really bright source of light.
I just leave this low, usually at 200. Because the camera is on a tripod, and I’m working with a slow shutter speed, I prefer to leave this low to have the cleanest (least noisy/grainy) shots possible. I would rather adjust the aperture or shutter speed if I need to.
There are a couple of ways people suggest for this. One is to set the lens to the infinity symbol and have it on manual focus, and manually focus the frame. I back-button focus during regular sessions, and I will usually just do this for fireworks shots as well – I will focus on something in the distance that is in the approximate area where the fireworks will be (usually a tall building), and then recompose my shot. However, I almost always view the fireworks over the city skyline here in Boston – this may not work for those of you who live in less urban areas. Manual focus is likely the easier and more reliable way in areas where you are looking at a wide expanse of open sky.
I prefer to shoot with the longest zoom lens I have, because in my experience, we aren’t close to where the fireworks are being shot off. This allows me to zoom in and out for my composition.
This is where your personal style can shine! Personally, I want to see my surroundings in addition to the fireworks, to give them more context. So I like to include the skyline, people, anything that shows more of our location. You’ll also want to find a good vantage point from your location – make sure no one can walk into your frame and that there isn’t anything that could distract the viewer’s eye or detract from the fireworks themselves.
That’s pretty much it! Like I said, shooting fireworks can be easy. Give it a shot this year, and be sure to come share on our forums and Facebook page!
Related: 5 ideas for creative firework photos