How to photograph fireworks

I just realized that I needed to freshen up on the technicalities of how to photograph fireworks, since I only get a chance to practice once a year. I thought perhaps all of you might also appreciate a refresher or even an introduction on how to capture images fireworks.

It’s actually pretty easy to get the technical parts right, when taking pictures of fireworks. I learned how to photograph fireworks several years ago, and it only took a simple web search and a bit of reading. Here is what I learned, but simplified.

1. Use a tripod. Your exposures will be 1-15 seconds long. You need to keep your camera still. Use a remote shutter release or your camera’s timer to reduce camera shake.

2. If you have the option to set your ISO, set it between 100 and 400. (Many of the articles I read in my search said 100, but I found I prefered 320 so that I could have a faster shutter speed.)

3. If you can set your aperture, set it between f8.0 and f16. This gives a good depth of field, without slowing down the shutter speed to much.

4. Turn off your autofocus if you can and focus on infinity. If you can’t, try to focus on a point near where the fireworks will be and lock your focus on that.

5. Set your shutter speed between 1 second and 15 seconds. The length of the shutter speed should depend on how many bursts you want in the photograph at one time. The longer the exposure, the busier the image. The shorter the exposure, the more you are focused on just one or two explosions.

6. Start taking the picture when you see the firework launch. Your exposure is long, so it will catch all the action you want and more.

That covers most of the technical aspects. There are however a couple of other things that you can take into consideration.

You should also think about what lens to use. If you are close to the fireworks, use a wide lens. You won’t be able to track the rockets very easily, so you will want to improve your chances by photographing more of the night sky. When I took my photos, I was mostly using a 70-200mm because I was farther away, and my only other lens I had brought was my 16-35 mm. The lens I wish I had brought was my 24-70 mm, which would have given me a little more of the boats and water, while still capturing the action.

Figure out what the lay of the land is like, before it gets dark. Get an idea of what you would like your composition to be, while you can still see what your options are. Is there a tree you would like silhouetted to the side of the fireworks bursts? Is there water that you can have the fireworks reflecting in? (Wind can make it tricky to get a clear reflection, if it is rippling the water much.)

Also, notice if there is any wind, and the direction it is coming from. Can you guess where the wind is blowing in the photos below? The wind will have an affect on how the fireworks appear during a long exposure.Would you rather be facing into the wind and the fireworks, or to the side, and watch how they stream in the wind?

Happy shooting. I hope to see some of your photos of this years celebrations,


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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2 Responses to How to photograph fireworks

  1. My Heartsong says:

    So Galen, where were you for Canada Day, eh? Now I remember that I took notes from you last year and did more research. I like what I got this year and invite you to check it out.Regards to you for the fourth of July! Happy Independence Day!

  2. donna213 says:

    Your photos are just beautiful I like the tip about the wind too. I think it makes a big difference in the final image. Long time no “hear” Galen. Good you are posting again, I missed all your fine tips. Donna from Garden Walk Garden Talk.

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