Here are some basic tips – this is not intended as an all-inclusive article, but rather a starting point.

1. Scout out and stake out your favorite spot early. Finding the right vantage point is crucial to good fireworks photography. Make sure you have an unobstructed view of the sky. Make sure you have legal permission to be at the place you select for a vantage point. Also consider safety first. Make sure you’re not in an area where the fireworks will land near you.

2. Use a tripod. You will need long exposure times to record the brilliant fireworks streaming through the sky so handheld shots won’t work. (Make sure tripods are allowed at your chosen vantage point.)

3. Use long shutter speeds. For most fireworks photos, an ISO of 250 with a four-second exposure at f8 should be a good starting point. Look at your histogram and image on the back of the camera and adjust your exposure by adjusting the shutter speed.

4. If your camera has a long-exposure noise reduction mode, use it. Digital cameras can produce noisy (grainy) pictures when their shutters are tripped for more than a second. The noise-reduction mode on most cameras eliminates or reduced this problem.

5. DO NOT use flash. It won’t help.

6. Set your focus point to infinity and then disable autofocus. This will improve and speed up your camera’s performance.

7. Bring several formatted memory cards. Pre-format these cards since you will be working in the dark. You don’t want to mess with getting each card ready when it’s tough to see what you’re doing.

8. If possible, use a strong foreground object such as a local landmark to set the fireworks against.

9. Bring a small flashlight so you can read your camera’s dials in the dark.

10. Don’t forget to shoot both vertical and horizontal views of the fireworks…

Experiment and have fun. You’ll get the best results if you practice your technique.

_______________
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 58 Comments

  1. This one’s gonna be tough, since I don’t have a tripod.

  2. This one’s gonna be tough, since I don’t have a tripod.

  3. I’m so excited. I just had to post it. I just got a G9 for my birthday and absolutely adore it. The macro feature is awesome. I’ll be posting pics on my blog this week as I start to learn all the features of my new camera! (http://zipperfoot.blogspot.com/)

    Thanks for everything – including inspiring my significant other to gift giving ideas. I also received two of Scott Kelby’s books, based on a TWIP recommendation, for my birthday. (S.O.’s blog: http://bobgannon.blogspot.com/)

    As to fireworks, I am looking forward to the upcoming holiday to try out your tips.

  4. I’m so excited. I just had to post it. I just got a G9 for my birthday and absolutely adore it. The macro feature is awesome. I’ll be posting pics on my blog this week as I start to learn all the features of my new camera! (http://zipperfoot.blogspot.com/)

    Thanks for everything – including inspiring my significant other to gift giving ideas. I also received two of Scott Kelby’s books, based on a TWIP recommendation, for my birthday. (S.O.’s blog: http://bobgannon.blogspot.com/)

    As to fireworks, I am looking forward to the upcoming holiday to try out your tips.

  5. What about using “Bulb” mode along with a wireless remote?
    The way that I do it is to leave my camera in “Bulb” mode, which means that it will open the shutter when I press on my wireless remote or shutter trigger and leave it open until I press it again. What I usually do is listen for the BOOM of the firework launch, because you will usually hear the firework before you see it go up. As soon as I hear it I press the shutter release once on my remote. The shutter will now stay open until I’m ready to close it. So after some nice trails are made with the firework, I press the button again the shutter closes. It gives you way more creative control over your fireworks photos, and lets you determine the length of exposure.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/melancon/tags/fireworks/

  6. What about using “Bulb” mode along with a wireless remote?
    The way that I do it is to leave my camera in “Bulb” mode, which means that it will open the shutter when I press on my wireless remote or shutter trigger and leave it open until I press it again. What I usually do is listen for the BOOM of the firework launch, because you will usually hear the firework before you see it go up. As soon as I hear it I press the shutter release once on my remote. The shutter will now stay open until I’m ready to close it. So after some nice trails are made with the firework, I press the button again the shutter closes. It gives you way more creative control over your fireworks photos, and lets you determine the length of exposure.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/melancon/tags/fireworks/

  7. Another thing that you can do is take a piece of dark cardboard with you and cover up the lens while the fireworks are trailing to the sky, and then move it away as they “boom” in the air. (You would need to shoot bulb with a cable-release to accomplish this.) By doing this you would get just the bursts in the air, so you can layer them over and over without having several light trails from the ground (similar to the photo posted above). :)

  8. Another thing that you can do is take a piece of dark cardboard with you and cover up the lens while the fireworks are trailing to the sky, and then move it away as they “boom” in the air. (You would need to shoot bulb with a cable-release to accomplish this.) By doing this you would get just the bursts in the air, so you can layer them over and over without having several light trails from the ground (similar to the photo posted above). :)

  9. Great tips as usual Scott. Fortunately I will be – if I decide to shoot some things year – in a place where I can actually see the launches of the mortars, and can gauge my exposures accordingly.

    @ Adam – In the past I had opted for bulb mode when I shot film. But I figure with digital, and having NR turned on, I might miss some great opportunities while waiting for the camera to take the second “dark frame” exposure. You might get a nice shot with a 30 second exposure, but you’ll have to wait another 30 seconds before you can shoot again. Just my opinion, of course.

  10. Great tips as usual Scott. Fortunately I will be – if I decide to shoot some things year – in a place where I can actually see the launches of the mortars, and can gauge my exposures accordingly.

    @ Adam – In the past I had opted for bulb mode when I shot film. But I figure with digital, and having NR turned on, I might miss some great opportunities while waiting for the camera to take the second “dark frame” exposure. You might get a nice shot with a 30 second exposure, but you’ll have to wait another 30 seconds before you can shoot again. Just my opinion, of course.

  11. Oh wow, I can’t wait for the 4th of July now!

  12. Oh wow, I can’t wait for the 4th of July now!

  13. What, “adjust your exposure by adjusting the shutter speed”? That will affect the size of the “blooms”, hence a major part of the appearance. Seems to me you should adjust exposure (as literally exposure) by f-stop. What am I missing?

  14. What, “adjust your exposure by adjusting the shutter speed”? That will affect the size of the “blooms”, hence a major part of the appearance. Seems to me you should adjust exposure (as literally exposure) by f-stop. What am I missing?

  15. I told you that as a “starting point” you should use f/8 and four seconds. If you select too small an aperture, you will just end up with streaks. But use any exposure you like.

  16. I told you that as a “starting point” you should use f/8 and four seconds. If you select too small an aperture, you will just end up with streaks. But use any exposure you like.

  17. I love the tip and can’t wait until the 4th of July. Great podcast, thank you and everyone at TWIP for the show!!!

  18. I love the tip and can’t wait until the 4th of July. Great podcast, thank you and everyone at TWIP for the show!!!

  19. Personally, now that I am shooting digital, I just shoot one burst (with or without trails) per exposure. I can combine them in any way I wish in Photoshop later. Much harder to remove them if they overlapped poorly.

    As it happens, I will be in Canada on the 4th this year. I somehow don’t expect a lot of fireworks to be available for shooting while there… :-)

  20. Personally, now that I am shooting digital, I just shoot one burst (with or without trails) per exposure. I can combine them in any way I wish in Photoshop later. Much harder to remove them if they overlapped poorly.

    As it happens, I will be in Canada on the 4th this year. I somehow don’t expect a lot of fireworks to be available for shooting while there… :-)

  21. You stole my thunder

    Yes, using bulb with a piece black cardboard is an excellent method of shooting fireworks. Try it.

    Rosh

  22. You stole my thunder

    Yes, using bulb with a piece black cardboard is an excellent method of shooting fireworks. Try it.

    Rosh

  23. Ditto on the “Bulb” setting with using a dark piece of cardboard or foam with the camera in “Bulb” mode and a cable-release. (The tripod is your best friend for the 4th. If no tripods are allowed, consider one of the alternatives @Scott mentioned in an earlier TWiP. The GorillaPod for SLRs is great.)

    Additionally, there’s no reason to worry about using a High ISO. I’d stick with ISO 100 or 200, whichever looks better in your camera. (Strange, but true. ISO 200 looks better than 100 in my camera.)

    Also, don’t worry about having to use a wide-aperture lens like an f/2.8 or bigger. People underestimate the brightness of the fireworks. I’d go with f/8 – f/11. And don’t be afraid to experiment! Swap out that wide-angle for a telephoto. :-)

  24. Ditto on the “Bulb” setting with using a dark piece of cardboard or foam with the camera in “Bulb” mode and a cable-release. (The tripod is your best friend for the 4th. If no tripods are allowed, consider one of the alternatives @Scott mentioned in an earlier TWiP. The GorillaPod for SLRs is great.)

    Additionally, there’s no reason to worry about using a High ISO. I’d stick with ISO 100 or 200, whichever looks better in your camera. (Strange, but true. ISO 200 looks better than 100 in my camera.)

    Also, don’t worry about having to use a wide-aperture lens like an f/2.8 or bigger. People underestimate the brightness of the fireworks. I’d go with f/8 – f/11. And don’t be afraid to experiment! Swap out that wide-angle for a telephoto. :-)

  25. @Burt Well, if you’re gonna be here on the 1st, that’s Canada Day and although fireworks aren’t as prevalent as in the States, there might be some celebrations you’ll be able to shoot.

    I actually had the chance to practice this a couple of weeks ago with a local celebration in Pitt Meadows, BC. I didn’t have a tripod and they just started firing a few blocks away from my house so I grabbed my camera and got a crash course. Tip number 6 on the list was the best thing I learned at that moment.

    Since I didn’t have a tripod I opted for bumping the ISO to 800 and 1600, turning IS on, widest aperture I could manage on my lens and the longest exposure that could produce something worthwhile. I went through that card really quickly.

    An other tip I would mention is to turn the auto review off while you’re doing this so the screen is not constantly flashing after every picture you take, could save some battery that way. Also try to develop muscle memory for all the buttons to make adjustments, that way you won’t need a flashlight for that purpose.

  26. @Burt Well, if you’re gonna be here on the 1st, that’s Canada Day and although fireworks aren’t as prevalent as in the States, there might be some celebrations you’ll be able to shoot.

    I actually had the chance to practice this a couple of weeks ago with a local celebration in Pitt Meadows, BC. I didn’t have a tripod and they just started firing a few blocks away from my house so I grabbed my camera and got a crash course. Tip number 6 on the list was the best thing I learned at that moment.

    Since I didn’t have a tripod I opted for bumping the ISO to 800 and 1600, turning IS on, widest aperture I could manage on my lens and the longest exposure that could produce something worthwhile. I went through that card really quickly.

    An other tip I would mention is to turn the auto review off while you’re doing this so the screen is not constantly flashing after every picture you take, could save some battery that way. Also try to develop muscle memory for all the buttons to make adjustments, that way you won’t need a flashlight for that purpose.

  27. I found the hardest thing was getting the focus spot on. In the end I used the live-view mode on my 40D and zoomed it in to 5x. I could then manually set the focus as the first few rockets went up and then stick to that focus setting for the rest of the evening. It worked out quite well. I also used BULB mode and a remote release trigger to keep the camera still on the tripod. You can see the images here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rakh1/sets/72157602909184845/

    Rich

  28. I found the hardest thing was getting the focus spot on. In the end I used the live-view mode on my 40D and zoomed it in to 5x. I could then manually set the focus as the first few rockets went up and then stick to that focus setting for the rest of the evening. It worked out quite well. I also used BULB mode and a remote release trigger to keep the camera still on the tripod. You can see the images here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rakh1/sets/72157602909184845/

    Rich

  29. Great advice. Thanks!

  30. Great advice. Thanks!

  31. I had a go at shooting fireworks on Guy Fawkes night last year, and after playing with loads of different exposures i ended up at ISO 100, 2 seconds, F11. I guess this isn’t too far from Scotts starting point, but i found that longer shutter speeds caused too much blur to the fireworks.

    I was aiming for abstract images with just the coloured streaks on a black background, and i was very pleased with the results. i’ve got some on Flickr if you’d like to have a look.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/silver_shark/tags/fireworks

    Of the tips above i would second the use of manual focus at infinity and bringing along a torch to see your camera controls, espeically important when constantly altering shutter speed and aperture to tweak the exposures. I found the hardest part was aiming the camera to get the burst centred.

  32. I had a go at shooting fireworks on Guy Fawkes night last year, and after playing with loads of different exposures i ended up at ISO 100, 2 seconds, F11. I guess this isn’t too far from Scotts starting point, but i found that longer shutter speeds caused too much blur to the fireworks.

    I was aiming for abstract images with just the coloured streaks on a black background, and i was very pleased with the results. i’ve got some on Flickr if you’d like to have a look.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/silver_shark/tags/fireworks

    Of the tips above i would second the use of manual focus at infinity and bringing along a torch to see your camera controls, espeically important when constantly altering shutter speed and aperture to tweak the exposures. I found the hardest part was aiming the camera to get the burst centred.

  33. With regard to the flashlight, I’d suggest trying to use one that has a red or yellow lens that won’t destroy the night vision of you or those around you. I personally use a yellow LED light that is built into my housekey. One less thing to pack or worry about batterywise.

  34. With regard to the flashlight, I’d suggest trying to use one that has a red or yellow lens that won’t destroy the night vision of you or those around you. I personally use a yellow LED light that is built into my housekey. One less thing to pack or worry about batterywise.

  35. Borrowed a tripod for an early fireworks display last night. Had the settings in my head, only to have my battery running low and the other one charging at home! Worrying about that made me forget some of the settings, so I had some blurriness. For me, though, the trickiest part was when to click (I don’t have the ability to start and stop my shutter with a remote). I would either do it too early or too late. Got some good shots, would have been better with correct aperture and shutter speed.

  36. Borrowed a tripod for an early fireworks display last night. Had the settings in my head, only to have my battery running low and the other one charging at home! Worrying about that made me forget some of the settings, so I had some blurriness. For me, though, the trickiest part was when to click (I don’t have the ability to start and stop my shutter with a remote). I would either do it too early or too late. Got some good shots, would have been better with correct aperture and shutter speed.

  37. [...] This Week in Photography and Photojojo! both have excellent articles on explosive techniques for capturing fireworks, while the Amazon blog covers how to keep our four-legged friends happy while the fireworks on lighting up the night. More than anything on the fourth, remember that while the fireworks are often the highlight of a good INdependence Day, it’s tough to tell one photo from another, be sure to get plenty of pictures of the rest of the festivities to personalize the event. [...]

  38. [...] This Week in Photography and Photojojo! both have excellent articles on explosive techniques for capturing fireworks, while the Amazon blog covers how to keep our four-legged friends happy while the fireworks on lighting up the night. More than anything on the fourth, remember that while the fireworks are often the highlight of a good INdependence Day, it’s tough to tell one photo from another, be sure to get plenty of pictures of the rest of the festivities to personalize the event. [...]

  39. yo Adam, light travels faster then sound so if you hear the boom, the firework will have already gone off and you would have already missed half of the action

  40. yo Adam, light travels faster then sound so if you hear the boom, the firework will have already gone off and you would have already missed half of the action

  41. Long time listener, first time poster. Great tips! I read up on these before I went to shoot my first fireworks display last night with my Canon Rebel XT. Got some good shots. Some were slightly out of focus b/c I didn’t set the focus to infinity…I tried to gauge what was in focus with my eye and leave it at that. I’m hoping we catch some fireworks tonight so I can improve! Thanks for all you guys do — love listening to the show!

  42. Long time listener, first time poster. Great tips! I read up on these before I went to shoot my first fireworks display last night with my Canon Rebel XT. Got some good shots. Some were slightly out of focus b/c I didn’t set the focus to infinity…I tried to gauge what was in focus with my eye and leave it at that. I’m hoping we catch some fireworks tonight so I can improve! Thanks for all you guys do — love listening to the show!

  43. Actually – as I look at my photos, I thought of a question. When you shoot finales during a fireworks display, do you set the shutter speed to less than 2-4 seconds? I found in all my finale pictures that so many fireworks were going off SO fast that I’m just left with big blurs of light in the sky that have no definition. What’s the lowest shutter speed you’ve used and had success with??

  44. Actually – as I look at my photos, I thought of a question. When you shoot finales during a fireworks display, do you set the shutter speed to less than 2-4 seconds? I found in all my finale pictures that so many fireworks were going off SO fast that I’m just left with big blurs of light in the sky that have no definition. What’s the lowest shutter speed you’ve used and had success with??

  45. Thank you for this tip. Photos came out very good for being my first time shooting fireworks with a DSLR.
    Keep up the great tips.

  46. Thank you for this tip. Photos came out very good for being my first time shooting fireworks with a DSLR.
    Keep up the great tips.

  47. Great tips Scott! I have a few more to add. I recommend using a flashlight or even car headlamps to light up some of the foreground-basically you are light painting. And of course, bring extra batteries because long exposures can make them drain faster. Something waterproof to kneel and/or lie down on is also a good idea because often, the best vantage point will be about 1-2 feet from the ground. I would also experiment with a few focal length lenses. If you have two camera bodies, I would bring both, because changing lenses in the dark is not much fun, and fireworks seem to end too quickly.

    One of my favorite lenses to use when shooting fireworks is a wide angle zoom. I have an article that shows a photo of two people on a blanket, shot near a lake a few years back, along with a link to more fireworks tips. You can find it here:

    http://imagingbuffet.com/2008/07/03/fireworks-tips-and-how-to-find-shows-in-your-area/

    Andrew
    ————–
    Andrew Darlow
    Editor, ImagingBuffet.com, InkjetTips.com

  48. Great tips Scott! I have a few more to add. I recommend using a flashlight or even car headlamps to light up some of the foreground-basically you are light painting. And of course, bring extra batteries because long exposures can make them drain faster. Something waterproof to kneel and/or lie down on is also a good idea because often, the best vantage point will be about 1-2 feet from the ground. I would also experiment with a few focal length lenses. If you have two camera bodies, I would bring both, because changing lenses in the dark is not much fun, and fireworks seem to end too quickly.

    One of my favorite lenses to use when shooting fireworks is a wide angle zoom. I have an article that shows a photo of two people on a blanket, shot near a lake a few years back, along with a link to more fireworks tips. You can find it here:

    http://imagingbuffet.com/2008/07/03/fireworks-tips-and-how-to-find-shows-in-your-area/

    Andrew
    ————–
    Andrew Darlow
    Editor, ImagingBuffet.com, InkjetTips.com

  49. [...] More advice here Tags: fireworks, long exposure, manual mode, pechanga indian reservation, shutter speed, tripod [...]

  50. [...] More advice here Tags: fireworks, long exposure, manual mode, pechanga indian reservation, shutter speed, tripod [...]

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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