With 4th of July coming up I thought it was a good time to do a quick refresher on how to photograph fireworks. These can come out really rad (yes, I love to use the word rad) if you get everything set up right.
I’m going to show you step by step how to take fireworks photos that you would be proud to hang on your wall.
1. Scope out a great location in advance
Do yourself a favor and scope out the location you will be shooting in first. The background and foreground will have a big impact on your images.
I was lucky enough last year to be at a party on the 28th floor of a high-rise building overlooking the San Diego bay! I got to the party early and set up my tripod on the balcony overlooking the bay so no one was in front of me. Here was the location:
Try to find somewhere that isn’t very crowded
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to shoot fireworks photos from a crowded area. You don’t want to get all set up and suddenly have a bunch of people stand up in front of your photos and get in the way.
Fireworks photos are so much easier to shoot with an uncrowded place to shoot.
2. Use a tripod
To show the full movement of the fireworks you will be using a longer shutter speed. In order to keep the foreground and background crisp you want to make sure your camera doesn’t move.
I really like the Manfrotto BeFree tripod. It’s light, heavy duty, and these things last forever. They are on the pricey side at $199, but I’ve never regretted having a sturdy and nimble tripod for my gear.
What if you don’t have a tripod?
So lets say you don’t have a tripod and still want to secure your camera for longer exposures. There are a few ways to do this:
Try to find a ledge or flat surface to set your camera on. Perhaps grab a nearby chair/stool or even set your camera on a bench.
3. Use a shutter release or self timer
The last thing you want to do is move your camera while its creating a long exposure. Physically touching the shutter button can move the camera just a little bit which is no good.
A shutter release or remote shutter release will let you trip the shutter without touching the camera.
What if you don’t have a shutter release?
If you don’t have one a quick workaround is to set your self-timer on a 2 second delay. That way you can physically press the shutter button and then two seconds later the exposure will start.
4. Composition and framing
You can either choose to shoot horizontal or vertical. I shot a lot of horizontal photos last year but wish I would have shot vertical.
Shooting vertical gives the fireworks space in the frame to travel from the ground to the sky. This year I’ll definitely be shooting more vertical shots.
Make sure to keep your horizon perfectly horizontal
Knowing its going to be very dark can make it difficult to line up your horizon. Take a few long exposures before the fireworks start and check out your results to make sure you have it nailed down.
5. Choosing your aperture
Many people think you need a very big aperture like f/2.8, f/1.8, or f/1.4 because its dark outside. Fireworks themselves are very very bright so you actually want to shoot between f/8 and f/16.
Shooting between f/8 and f/16 will also give your camera enough time to use a longer shutter speed to capture the full movement of the fireworks.
6. Choosing your ISO
Anytime you are shooting long exposures at night it’s preferable to shoot at the lowest ISO possible. Try to shoot at ISO 100-200, this will keep the noise in the image very low.
7. Choosing your Shutter speed
Shutter speed is likely the most important aspect of capturing an awesome fireworks photo. If you use too short of a shutter speed the image won’t capture the full path of the firework as they rise and explode.
If you use too long of a shutter speed you could overexpose the fireworks themselves. Most of the photos in this post were shot between 6-8 seconds.
8. Post processing
Once you have your photos back home on your computer it’s time to process them. Think about pushing up the saturation a bit to bring out the firework colors.
Keep your eye on the white balance to make sure city lights don’t show up as ugly orange. If you want to save time you could take a look at the Hacking Photography Night Color presets.
This is an entire set of night photo presets just for situations like this that make editing a one-click job.
Other helpful tips
Shoot a ton of photos
The beautiful thing about digital photography is that there is zero cost to shoot a ton of photos! You can keep the shutter pressed down or shoot one photo after another to make sure you capture that perfect shot as fireworks are going off quickly.
Pre-focus your shot
Most of the fireworks will be going off the same distance from you so once you lock focus, switch your lens over to manual focus. This means it will stay right where you put it instead of hunting for an autofocus point in the dark.
Shoot downwind if possible
The longer the show goes on the more smoke there will be in the air. If the smoke is going to be heading your way then your photos won’t be as clear. When scouting out your location see if you can be in the opposite direction of the wind.