How to Photograph Fireworks!

Happy 4th of July everyone!  At S18 Photography, we hope that you all have some great plans to spend some time relaxing with friends and family for the holiday to celebrate our nation’s independence.  Many of you probably have BBQs to attend, relatives that you can’t wait to see (or would rather not), and of course… fireworks!

So how many of you out there will have a camera by your side (maybe a DSLR that you bought to take pictures of the kids), and are thinking… “Wow… it would be cool if I could get some great shots of the fireworks later tonight…”  Well, we are going to give you a few tips on how you can do it.

First, let’s start with the basics… To get this done right, you are going to need a tripod (preferably a very sturdy one).  You might also want a remote trigger or cable release, unless you have a really steady hand.  You need these, because you are going to be taking long exposure photographs.  This means that your shutter is going to be open for a while to capture the beautiful lights, so you are going to want to keep the camera nice and steady.  While the tripod is a must, a remote or cable release will allow you to keep your hands off the camera as much as possible.  This is important… the less you touch the camera, the less chance you have to accidentally shake it and ruin that great photo.

Next, put the camera in full Manual mode.  Yes, you heard me… we’re going all manual here.  Trust me, it’s really not that scary, and it’s the way to go with this.  I’ll walk you through the settings to get some great exposures:


Set your camera’s ISO to a very low value.  You can try somewhere between 100-200 or so.  I preferred working at ISO 200.  Why?  Well, you will simply get much less noise in a low light environment, and your camera will capture more vibrant colors.  Also, you want to be able to have the shutter opened longer.  At higher ISO values, you would have to work with a faster shutter speed.

Aperture (F-number)

Anywhere between f/8 and f/16 or so will work here.  You want enough Depth of Field (DOF) to capture a crisp image.  Translation… you’re not blurring backgrounds here… lets keep the image as sharp as possible.  I liked working with f/8 and f/11 for my shots.  You will notice that as you increase your F-number, less light is getting into the camera, and so you will get thinner lines, etc.  At f/8, you might be getting really bright images, and want to increase your F-number a bit… It’s all preference.  Get creative!

Shutter Speed

Again, adjust to taste, but I found I was happy with my images having my shutter open for 3.2 s.  Anywhere from 3-5 seconds or so will probably do.  Any higher at the same ISO & aperture, and you might find your images getting too bright.


You can either focus on something far in the distance (as close to the fireworks as possible) or you can try setting your lens to manual focus.  I almost never use manual focus in my normal photography sessions, but in this case, I found manual focus to work really well, and so I went with it.

Some last minute tips:

– Bring a zoom lens.  Don’t be a knucklehead like me.  I brought along a 100mm prime lens and wound up paying for it.  I would have captured many more, much better shots, if I had the ability to zoom in and out.  (I have a lot of wider lenses as a real estate photographer, so this was the longest telephoto I had on hand.)  Something that can zoom in far like a telephoto is a good idea, but don’t overlook the fact that you might get a better seat than you plan.  If you are closer than you though, you want the ability to zoom in & out a bit… rather than walking across an entire crowded park!

– Once you have settings you are comfortable with… feel free to relax, enjoy the moment, and just trigger the shutter.  You can also feel free to experiment.  It’s really all up to you.  You might want to trigger the shutter when you see the firework first get launched into the sky, OR you might want to trigger right as the firework bursts.

Happy shooting & don’t be afraid to experiment!  Enjoy the spectacular, and be sure to stop back and let us know how you did!

S18 Photography 2012

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