How to Photograph Fireworks

Happy Canada Day! As many of you know, today being Canada Day is also not that far off from our good neighbours to the south with the 4th of July celebrations just around the corner. With both of these festive occassions come the beautiful fireworks displays as we party it up. What better time of year is there to bring out a picnic and your camera for some fireworks fun; a perfect photo opportunity! We have a guest blogger, Kevin Simpson, who was kind enough to submit this tutorial on:

How to Photograph Fireworks – By Kevin Simpson.
It’s that time of year again. For some of us it’s fireworks time.

I don’t know about you, but when I started out trying to photograph this majestic event I had the worst, dismal, awful time doing it. I read tutorial after another one. Nothing seemed to work. What I do agree with: Using a tripod of course, is a must. Other than that, I mostly don’t…

If you’re new to this arena, I want to help clear it up. There are some absolutes, and then there are some that aren’t quite so absolute. Let’s start with the absolutes:

When you arrive to a new location where you’ve never seen fireworks before, ask people where the fireworks will go off. You’ll want to set up out of the way of people and any bright street lights or other lights that might be behind you. If you have these lights behind you, and you don’t shield the viewfinder, you’ll more than likely have some poor results as light can creep in through the viewfinder too. The same is true if you have lights in front of your camera, so steer clear of the lights whenever possible.

Your Gear
Now, let’s talk about the settings and what lens you’ll need. I use two different cameras when shooting fireworks. I freelance for newspapers so I’m always need to be in a position to capture the moment. On one, I’ll use a wide lens for my horizontal shots like my 16-35mm lens. On the other camera, I use my 24-70mm lens for the vertical shots. If you’re far away you may want to consider  a tele-zoom lens like the 70-200 lens.

I’ve found using an ISO of 200 works well with fireworks. Next, do not use auto-focus. Set your focus on infinity. Next, set your Aperture to f/9. Using auto white balance will work well when shooting fireworks.

Let’s talk exposure. There are some grey areas here; it comes down to experimenting. If you’re using a cable remote, set your camera exposure to the bulb setting. When you see the fireworks launch, activate your remote. When you see the fireworks explode and fizzle out, that’s when you need to complete your shot. Sometimes, it could take as long as 5 seconds, sometimes 1/4 of a second or even less depending if you’re shooting a mega burst. When they are going off full glory, the fireworks are very bright, so you do not want too long an exposure.

So you say hey, I don’t have a remote, now what smarty pants? Never fear, I wouldn’t leave ya hangin’ like that, would I? Okay, don’t answer that. It’s been well established in photography, if you want a sweet shot, either use your timer or remote for those sharp photos, right? In night time photography…in this case, pushing on the shutter will not harm the image with these exposures. I do not recommend however setting your exposure on the bulb setting if you’re not using a remote. Instead, used a fixed exposure setting. In the previous paragraph I recommended using up to a 5 second exposure to 1/4s. It all depends on how bright of a cycle the fireworks show is at the present time. I’ve tried using a 2 second timer on the camera and did not notice any difference than just pushing on the shutter what so ever. Try both way’s and see if I’m telling the truth or not.

It’s also been said that after the first five minutes of the fireworks show, pack it up due to the heavy smoke from the fireworks, the smoke in the background will kill the image. Maybe, maybe not. I think sometimes the smoke adds to the ambiance of the moment. Again, experiment. Some shots looks great with the smoke and some will not.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck, have a Coke and a smile, and some great fireworks photographic fun!
Here is a link to my fireworks photography gallery for some further examples:

About the author

Dave Seeram is the Editor of PhotographyBB Magazine, photographer, Canucks fan, Lostie,  fanboy, Dad, blogger, entrepreneur, and part-time superhero. Dave is the owner of this blog, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and CLARITY: PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THE CAMERA

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