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Seven tips to photograph fireworks and architecture

With summer comes national holidays (July 1 in Canada, July 4 in the US and July 14 in France) and fireworks. Chances are, many of you will be going to see fireworks and will want to photograph them. If you’re in a large city, it’s worth planning your shots to get some interesting architecture or cityscape composition.

1. Find a location

First, prepare your shot. The best location to view the fireworks might not be great for photos. It’s probably too close and too crowded. Figure out where the fireworks are shot off from and start looking at Google Maps, Google Earth and Street View. Figure out where you can see the fireworks and the skyline. Find an interesting building that could be a good foreground.

I planned the shot below so I could see three different shows. The two small ones on the left were just a nice bonus! They were all shot at different times the same night and then blended together in Photoshop.

2. Focus on one or two compositions

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to shoot many different compositions during a single firework show. I recommend taking the time to carefully plan one composition and make sure you shoot a lot of different frames during the show, to have a bunch of options. If you’re careful, plan two or three compositions you can easily switch between without changing your settings. Better yet, set up two cameras on two tripods!

3. Leave some room

It’s not always easy to estimate how high the fireworks will go, so make sure you leave enough room in the sky. It’s better to crop in post-processing than to have the top or the side of the fireworks cut off.

4. Photograph in manual mode

Shooting in the city is tough on your meter because there are so many light sources. I recommend you shoot in manual mode to have full control and to make sure your camera doesn’t under- or over-expose. If you’re planning on a single composition, go with manual focus too.

5. Use a small aperture

To get thinner and sharper light streaks, use a small aperture. I recommend around f/8 to f/11, as shooting at smaller aperture might be tough at night.

6. Aim for a two-second exposure

Since you’re in manual mode, it’s easy to aim for a specific shutter speed. If your exposure time is too short, you won’t get light streaks. If it’s too long, you will get too many fireworks that will probably overlap and become messy.

I recommend using a shutter speed around two seconds. You may need to increase your ISO to get to that shutter speed between f/8 and f/11, but it’s worth it! Depending on the show, you may need to adjust a bit, between say 1 and 5 seconds. Experiment and see what works best!

7. Don’t over-expose

One of the easiest mistakes to make with fireworks is to overexpose because some can be really bright. After the first few fireworks, check your exposure and adjust the shutter speed to make sure you don’t blow out the highlights.

If you have to underexpose for the fireworks, the city might be too dark. To avoid that, make sure you capture a few frames with the city properly exposed before the show starts. You can always blend one of those with the fireworks images later.

I hope these tips will help you get some great shots! But don’t forget, enjoy the show and the company too!

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