11 tips for great images of fireworks



One of the centerpieces of summer here in Indy (and all over our great country) are the 4th of July celebrations! Most of us have the day off, we enjoy our families and our friends, and give thanks that we are blessed to live in such a great country. We try desperately to capture the beautiful July 4th fireworks that cap off this great day, but often have trouble. Here are a few tips to help you get some memorable photos.

1. Location
Get to the location a bit early and try to collect information on the fireworks display, timing, set-up and from where the fireworks will be coming from. Find the right place with a nice foreground and background view to position yourself, and take a few test photos to get a feel of the focus. You will need to be quick in focusing, especially if the fireworks display is not going to last very long. Keep in mind that your auto focus might not work well once the sun goes down, so you may have to switch to manual focus.

2. Lens
A regular lens will do when you’re taking fireworks photos, so if you’re new to photography and haven’t purchased a wide variety of lenses, don’t worry because the lens that your DSLR came with will be just fine. You don’t need a fast lens to shoot fireworks. Remember, you are shooting bright light of the fireworks trails, not the dark sky. Zoom lenses are more flexible & they make it easier to compose, so if you have a great all-in-one zoom lens, this is a nice option.

2011 IndyCar St Petersburg

3. Camera Settings
“Everything Manual is the key”. Turn the dial on your camera to the M setting, and make sure you know how to use the controls on your camera to adjust the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Check your manual or look online if you need some help!

4. Focus
Focus manually. One tip on setting your focus settings early is to pick an object about the same distance as the fireworks (such as a tree, building, car, etc). This is why it is important to know exactly where the fireworks will be coming from. Once you have a good idea of the distance, you can set you focus to an object approximately the same distance. When the actual 4th of July fireworks display starts, you will already have your camera focused.

5. Aperture
For your exposure settings, it would be good to set aperture to f/8 to f/16. Confused because you’ll be shooting in the dark? Don’t be because you may be shooting in the dark but your target (the fireworks) will be pretty bright, and will stand out from the dark background.


6. Shutter Speed
The best setting for fireworks photography is bulb mode. To catch motion blur of fireworks 4 -10 sec long shutter speed produces the best result. This will allow you to blur the fireworks, but feel free to change your shutter speed based on how much motion blur you want, how much available light there is, how close or far away from the fireworks you are, and which lens you are using.

7. Tripod & Remote
A good quality tripod is a must for fireworks photography. The beauty of fireworks photography is in capturing the light trail or blur of the fireworks, so you will need to keep the camera very still, which will make a good tripod your best friend.  For that bulb setting mentioned in #8, a remote provides more control because you can use the remote to manually trigger the shutter and hold the button down to keep the shutter down. Most remotes will have a long cable which will also allow you to stand behind the camera and actually enjoy the fireworks at the same time!

8. No Tripod?
However, if you don’t have a tripod with you, you can make do with something sturdy that you can brace the camera on. You will be shooting from a good distance from the actual fireworks display so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding something sturdy. The top of your car, or any other car, a steel railing or a fallen tree will do. Anything sturdy that you can use will work.


9. ISO
You will also want to use the lowest ISO setting on your camera (generally 100) to keep down the noise as much as possible.  Fireworks photographs are great if taken without too much noise and an ISO setting of 100 keeps down that noise as much as possible, especially with longer shutter speeds.

10. Composition & Tips
Once you’ve taken the first shot, take a short moment to analyze the photo so you can adjust your settings accordingly. You will most likely have taken quite a number of shots on your first try so you can capture the burst and not just the rocket going up. Quickly move to the frame where you captured the burst and analyze it. Apply the rule of thirds if possible. Avoid too many bursts in a single frame. The early part of the display is the best for shooting fireworks. Later the sky becomes cloudy & hazy.

Fireworks photography is actually pretty simple, the only thing to really be aware of is that you have to keep the camera very steady. Plan ahead so you can bring a tripod with you!

Extra Helpful Tools: Flashlight, extra battery (You’ll be using your monitor a lot!), knowledge of the current wind direction (Fireworks drift according to the wind.)

St Lukes Fireworks Indianapolis, IN © 2015,  Walt Kuhn

11. And lastly: PATIENCE! Don’t try and get as many images as you can. Regularly check your monitor to see the results you are getting and adjust your exposure accordingly. Quality over quantity. Remember to shorten your exposure on the grand finale, as there will be a lot more light with that than the earlier fireworks.

Good luck and enjoy!