Photographing Fireworks


Everyone likes to snap some fireworks photos on Independence Day, but how do you do that? Do you try to time your shutter release right when the fireworks burst? No! Do you hand hold the camera? No! Do you use a really high ISO? No!

Here’s what you can do for successful fireworks photographs:

  1. Set your ISO to a LOW number (less sensitivity, but a much cleaner image in the black areas in particular). ISO 200 is fine, since the shutter will be open a long time. Even if there is enough light to use a fast shutter speed, don’t do so. Stop down the lens instead, if you need to cut back on the exposure. The explosives record as pinpoints of light, instead of trails, if you use a fast shutter speed. The shutter in my photograph above was open for four seconds, allowing movement of the fireworks to be recorded.
  2. Take your camera off  “auto” or “program mode” and put it on “M” for “Manual.” Don’t be scared; it’ll be OK!
  3. Set the shutter speed to 4 full seconds and the aperture (lens opening) to f/8 as a starting point.
  4. This is one situation where the auto white-balance will work well, so leave it set there, but look at your shots and decide if you’d like to change it to a different white balance setting.
  5. Attach your camera to a tripod.
  6. Focus on infinity (or on an object equal distance to where the fireworks will be) then turn the auto-focus OFF.
  7. Aim the camera in the general direction the fireworks release, then watch where the first few go and fine-tune the positioning of your camera.
  8. Press the shutter button to take your first photo (preferably with a cable so you don’t have to touch and bump, the camera during the exposure). If your timing wasn’t right and you didn’t capture any, try again. When you have one worth looking at, decide if you need a longer exposure time or a wider aperture opening to let in more light or smaller to let less.
  9. Pop off as many as you can; it’s all an adventure.
  10. Be prepared before the finale begins: there will be way more fireworks released, so you may need to quickly stop down the aperture (bigger number = smaller opening) so the photographs aren’t over-exposed. Know how to change the aperture on the fly so you can make the changes quickly
  11. AND (word to the wise…) try not to have just popped off a lot of pictures right before the finale or your camera might be buffering and get hung up “thinking” and not let you take any more photos. You will be very upset and frustrated if this happens!


Have a fun 4th of July!

Image copyrighted. Any use requires licensing from Martha Lochert.




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