Friday, 24 August 2012

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays

Use a Sturdy Tripod

The best feature of any fireworks display is the dramatic, colourful light trails as the crackers explode in mid sky. This usually lasts a few seconds and that means multi second exposure timings. So a good, sturdy tripod is an absolute must when it comes to photographing fireworks.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by David Hepworth

Use a Cable / Wireless Shutter Release

The best camera mode to photograph fireworks is B or Bulb mode where in the camera’s shutter stays open as long as you keep holding the shutter release button down. And you don’t want to do this directly on the camera’s shutter release button because that will almost certainly induce camera shake and render the picture worthless. So either use a cable release or a wireless trigger for your camera. Some photographers recommend using the self timer mode if you do not have a remote release, but it is not suited for shooting fireworks.

Framing Your Shot

You will have to use a bit of imagination in order to get the framing right. Framing something you can’t yet see is always a difficult task. Ask yourselves these questions beforehand and find the answers.

What am I going to shoot, is it tight close-ups of the fireworks display or should I include a bit of foreground, a building or monument, or silhouettes of the crowd watching the fireworks display. What should be my composition mode, vertical or horizontal? If it is visible, is my horizon level.

Tips to get your Framing Right

a. Scout the location early

You should have a general idea of where the fireworks display will be and where you should aim your camera. Get to the location early find out where all the things are arranged on the ground and where the crowd is expected. Things you could include in the foreground and background. Look out for good vantage points where you could set up your gear without any obstructions. Look for power lines and other such distractions that you should avoid. It is better to select a shooting location that is upwind or else the smoke will be blown directly on to you and it will not only ruin your shots but also give you a hard time shooting. Most fireworks displays will have new kinds of attractions that the makers bring in so ask someone who is setting up the display for the attractions of the show and when they will be timed.

b. Vertical Vs Horizontal Framing

Both vertical and horizontal framing is equally good for photographing fireworks. Since fireworks display has a lot of vertical movement, vertical composition works best for tight frames and when using telephoto zooms. But if you want to capture a bit of landscape, some silhouettes of either the crowd or a building etc in the foreground it is better you shoot in horizontal mode using a wide angle lens. Horizontal framing is also preferred for multi exposure shots.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Ahisgett

c. Get your horizons level

If you are including the horizon in your shots i.e. if you are shooting with a wide angle lens including some of the foreground and background elements like the cityscape in your frame, make sure you have your horizon level. You can either use the indicator on your tripod or use a bubble level to make sure that you have set up your camera right.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Bob Jagendorf

d. Remember your framing

Look through your view finder and make a mental note of the general area that is in your frame. Since you will be spending more time looking directly at the sky than looking through the viewfinder; you will be better off watching that part of the sky that is in your frame. Be prepared to trigger when you see light trails of rockets headed in the direction of your frame.

Focal Length?

Many people are intrigued by close up shots of fireworks that fill the frame with bright colors. But it is hard to get your framing right when using longer focal lengths. It is better to use a wider focal length than a tight one because you could always crop your shots to get a tight close up frame. It is better to use a zoom lens to photograph fireworks as it allows one to change the focal length easily in between shots to capture the best of both worlds.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Slapbcn


It is a common misconception that you need fast lenses in order to photograph fireworks. But actually fireworks are very bright. And moreover you want the whole of your frame in focus so try to use a minimum aperture of f/11 so that your entire frame is in focus.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Akean2

Shutter Speed

The most difficult part of photographing fireworks is to get the shutter speed right. Anticipating the length of a burst and setting your shutter speed accordingly might work. But the best option if your camera has one is to use the B or the Bulb Mode where in the shutter stays open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button. Set your camera to bulb more and press and hold the shutter release button. Keep holding it till the burst is complete and release it immediately when the sky has turned black. Using this technique you will be able to capture the movement of the bursts.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Maurice


Set your camera to its lowest ISO settings to ensure the cleanest shots possible.

Turn off your Flash

Switch off your flash; it is of no use for photographing fireworks unless you are going to shoot a person’s portrait with the fireworks as the background. Your flash only has a reach of few meters and the only thing it will be able to illuminate will be the smoke and dirt which is not a desirable thing.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Fully manual mode is the best option when it comes to photographing fireworks and that includes focusing too. Set your lens to manual focus mode, focus on the general area of the fireworks, do some trial shots. Once you get the focusing right you need not change it during the fireworks display. It is better to move further back from the scene and use a longer focal length lens set to a small aperture and focused to infinity. You can’t get your focusing wrong with this technique.

Try and Experiment with Different Framing and Exposure Settings

Periodically check your LCDto make sure that your results are OK and the aperture settings as well as the focusing is right. Try experimenting with varying framing and try including silhouettes of people or buildings in the picture. Key is to not only capture the display in the sky, but also capture the scene and also what happens on the ground during the display. Try using the firework as a light source to illuminate a monument.

File Type and White Balance

Shoot in Raw Mode and set your white balance to Auto. This way you have a lot of control over your shots when you are post processing.

Capturing Multiple Bursts in One Shot

Multi exposure shots can be very interesting; here is one simple way to capture multiple fireworks burst in a single shot. Cover the lens with a black cardboard card, press and hold down the shutter release button, when the burst happen remove the black cardboard from the front of the lens and replace it immediately when the bust is over, when you have finished with the required number of exposures, release the shutter button.

How to Photographs Fireworks - Tips for Photographing Fireworks Displays
Photo by Down Town Pictures

Remember firework displays emit very bright light and slightly overdoing this will result in blown out shots. Also be careful while covering and uncovering the lens, you should not cause movement to the camera else you will have blurred pictures.

In the next article we will discuss about Photography - How To Photograph - How to Capture Motion Blur in Photography

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