Design, Photography, & Fashion

How to Photograph Fireworks: Tips and Tricks for Great Firework Photos

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 22, 2019 • 4 min read

If you’ve ever tried to snap photos of fireworks at your local New Year’s Eve or Fourth of July fireworks display, you know how difficult it can be to get a good image. Good pictures of fireworks are very hard to pull off for the amateur photographer, but with the right equipment and technique even beginners are capable of producing jaw-dropping fireworks photos.

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What is Firework Photography?

Firework photography is a special type of night photography that captures images of fireworks using specialized equipment and techniques. Fireworks are a difficult subject to capture, but with a small kit of equipment and knowledge of low light photography techniques, you should be able to capture some great images.

The Right Equipment for Firework Photography

Before you learn the technique behind photographing fireworks, it’s important to make sure you have the right equipment. The photography kit needed to photograph fireworks requires mostly the same equipment you would use for any low light night photography shoot.

  • Cameras: To start, you’ll need an SLR, DSLR or mirrorless camera. Some point-and-shoot cameras have a “fireworks” picture mode and these can be used in a pinch.
  • Lenses: Ideally, you’ll want a zoom lens or two with varying focal lengths to experiment with before the fireworks start.
  • Tripod: You’ll be using a slow shutter speed and long exposure time, so it’s important to have a good tripod. Tripods are necessary to prevent camera shake while the shutter is open.
  • Cable Release: A remote shutter release is another way to reduce camera shake by allowing you to maintain distance from the camera and avoid accidentally jostling it during the fireworks show.

You should also consider bringing along a chair or stool, extra memory cards, extra batteries, and a flashlight (to help you see and adjust your camera settings once the sun sets).

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Understanding Camera Settings for Fireworks Photography

  • Focus: Your camera’s autofocus is generally capable of picking up the correct focus for fireworks. Autofocus slow you down because it’s difficult for the camera to focus on moving subjects, like fireworks. Avoid this by using autofocus to adjust your camera during the first fireworks burst and then switch your camera to manual mode for the rest of the show. This way you’ll have the correct focus and with your camera in manual focus, you won’t need to wait for your camera to focus while your trying to photograph fireworks.
  • ISO: Set your ISO somewhere between ISO 100-200 in order to eliminate grain.
  • Aperture: Aperture should be between f-8 and f-16 to maintain sharpness and establish good depth of field, while also accounting for slow shutter speeds.
  • Bulb mode: Switching your camera to bulb mode will allow you to keep your shutter open as long as you want. This allows you to experiment with exposure time over the course of a fireworks show.
  • Flash off: Never use a flash when photographing fireworks. Flash will drown out the color and vibrancy of fireworks in your images and potentially overexpose the photo.

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4 Photography Tips for Getting the Best Fireworks Shots

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  1. Location, Location, Location: Get to the fireworks show early to stake out a good vantage point. You’ll want an unobstructed view of the sky above where the firework launch site is located. Take into consideration what angle might produce the most dramatic foreground and background. Capturing a cityscape or body of water in your fireworks photos can make them much more striking.
  2. Framing. Do your best to estimate where the fireworks will go off so you can appropriately frame your shot. Remember, you can always adjust the framing and angle of your camera once the show begins. Make sure the horizon in your shot is level and there are no obstructions between you and the fireworks display.
  3. Adjust as you go. Check how your images look as you go and adjust accordingly. It’s very rare that the first few shots are the best shots of the night and good fireworks photography is all about trial and error. You have a limited amount of time, so try to limit your experimentation to the first few fireworks bursts.
  4. Editing. Editing your shots is very important. Make sure you adjust contrast to increase the highlights and darken the shadows to make your images more striking. If there is a distracting amount of smoke in your pictures, you can also pull the highlights back down to blend the smoke into the background. Some images might be blurry which you can fix with a sharpening tool.

Fireworks photography is incredibly difficult, and it’s important to not get discouraged. The best fireworks photographers have years and years of experience. That being said, with the right equipment and technique even beginner photographers can produce stunning shots of their favorite Independence Day fireworks display.

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