How to Take Photos of Fireworks

There is nothing like a loud bang and a bright flash to really make a special occasion. New Year's Eve, Halloween and of course July 4th are all celebrated with fireworks. It's a pretty tricky subject to photograph, so let's break down what you need to know.

What makes a good photo of fireworks?

For all the flash and bang in real life, fireworks in themselves are a pretty boring photo subject. Totally isolated, they look like something computer generated. Instead, the best firework pictures have something else going on in the picture. It may be people in the foreground or simply fireworks that pop up in a city, but something else is happening.

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When pyrotechnicians unleash fireworks, they do it to get the best show. This means that the fireworks are triggered individually or in small bursts one after the other. It is rare for the whole sky to be filled at once. This looks great in real life, but on a photo, only one fireworks extinguishing seems anticlimatic. Most photos of fireworks are actually long exposure images that capture all the fireworks that went off for 10 seconds, 20 seconds or more.

Technical stuff

To capture a photo of fireworks, you have two options: the first (and the worst) is to hold your camera by hand and try to time a photo to capture the fireworks as they go off. The second (and good solution) is to install your camera on a tripod and use a long exposure time so that the fireworks burst at some point during it. This is the method I'm going to talk about.

For the best photos, arrive early at the location of the fireworks, before the sun has completely gone down. Install your tripod and frame the photo where you think the fireworks will be. You may need to adjust things later, but getting there early will allow you to get the best position and the best angle.

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The lens you use depends on how far away you are from the screen. A zoom will give you a lot more flexibility to adapt to everything that's going on. In general, you will not be so far away that you will need a very long telephoto lens. Something with a focal length between 18mm and 70mm will work in most situations. Just be sure to use manual focus.

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Opening is less important than the shutter speed for firework photos. You must stay too far from the screen so that the depth of field is important. Set your aperture between f / 8 and f / 16, depending on the ambient light. If fireworks are triggered over a city, f / 16 will work better. If they are in the woods, lean towards f / 8.

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The fireworks flash brightly, and since you are using a tripod, ISO It's not really a concern. Set it to 100 and leave it there. We will adjust the exposure by using the shutter speed.

There is not a single shutter speed that captures fireworks. Whether you have the shutter open for 10 or 30 seconds, what matters is the half-second during which the fireworks blink really really loudly. The difference is that with the shutter open for 30 seconds, you capture five or six bursts of fireworks rather than one or two; you will also give more time in the background to expose it.

Start with a shutter speed of about 10 seconds and take some test shots. If the photos are overexposed, tighten your aperture or shorten your exposure time to five seconds. If they are under-exposed, you can open your opening a little or opt for 20-second exposures. The only way to know what will work is the test and the error.

Other tips and tricks

Be ready to set your shutter speed and aperture on the fly. As the fire continues, there will be larger bursts and quieter periods. The shutter speed that gave excellent exposure at the beginning could overexpose the crescendo.

Pay attention to the other elements of your image. A strong foreground or a nice background will take a good photo of fireworks and make it big.

If you have a remote cable trigger or shutter release, you can put your camera in Bulb mode. As long as you hold down the shutter button, the shutter of your camera remains open. This gives you great flexibility in the duration of your exhibitions.

It's really hard to capture fireworks with the help of your phone. The best thing to do is to record a video instead of a photo or use an application like Slow shutter camera on iOS or Long Exposure Camera 2 on Android as well as a tripod for smartphone.

Enjoy the display. Do not take so much taking pictures that you miss the pleasure of hearing things explode and feeling the gunpowder.

The photos of fireworks are a little tricky if you do not know what you are doing, but once you have your camera on a tripod and you are using a long exposure, it is difficult to be wrong.

Image credits: Alejandro Scaff, Vernon Raineil Cenzon, Alexandre Chambon, Mike Enerio, Matt Popovich.

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