© w. brian watkins

Article by Scott Bourne and Richard Harrington

Today is the Fourth of July.  A day that traditionally means fireworks in the United States.  While you may or may not celebrate this holiday, summer is a season filled with fireworks.  Sporting events, amusement parks, and national holidays… it’s not a party until something explodes in the air.

We’ve updated our post on shooting fireworks.  These are just basic tips – this is not intended as an all-inclusive article, but rather a starting point. We hope you find something useful here.

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. One of my favorite things to do is to find a spot where there is a lake or pond that I can include in the foreground. This gives a chance to do some cool stuff with reflections.

2. Use a tripod. Use a STURDY 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. Make sure the ground is shake free. It doesn’t matter if your tripod is sturdy if the ground beneath is not.  Many porches, patios, boardwalks, docks, etc. will be prone to subtle vibration (or even not so subtle movement) as the crowds mill around.  Make sure the ground beneath your feet is solid.

4. 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. You may want slower shutter speeds, in which case your camera’s BULB setting will come in handy.

5. 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. If you’re not getting enough light, it’s better (especially with modern cameras) to crank up the ISO than to extend the exposures.

6. Shoot RAW.  The ability to cleanup noise and recover highlights in a raw file will really come in handy when you want to cleanup your photo. With fireworks you’ve got a high contrast scene.  Raw is the best path for most shooters.

7. DO NOT use flash. It won’t help. Period.

8. Set your focus point to infinity and then disable autofocus. This will improve and speed up your camera’s performance. Many shots are missed when photographers suffer through the period of time that the camera hunts for focus. Set it and forget it.

9. 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.

10. Let there be light. Bring a small flashlight so you can read your camera’s dials in the dark.

11. Give the picture some context.  If possible, use a strong foreground object such as a local landmark to set the fireworks against.

12. Change Your Composition. 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.

Disclaimer: These tips are meant to help you make better pictures.  Combine them with your own skills to get great results.

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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

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Photography, Shooting

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