How to Photograph Fireworks – SimplyTwo Photography

2:52 AM

It’s the 4th of July.

FACT: The skies are going to be lit like a laser light show run by red-bull drinking monkeys.

FACT: You’ll have some sort of camera…what to do…what to do?

FACT: You can impress ALL the ladies with this one simple line…”hey check out this firework photo I took with my Canon MK4 10-500mm f/.93 ultra zoom robot lens set to ISO3215648 at 8 seconds. What…you want to buy me dinner? Sure here’s my digits you fine looking seniorita.”

go get ‘em you stud muffin


(Above) Photographed on 6.25.2011 – Not sure why fireworks were going off but the view from my balcony made it possible to get this shot. ISO 50 , f/7.1, 6 seconds, 200mm, tripod

Some quick tips:

  1. No Flash: Flash confuses the camera and makes everything dark in this case. I would turn it off.
  2. Focus: Set your focus to infinity. Fireworks are going to be pretty far from you to its important to focus to the distance where they’ll be lighting up; in most cases this is your camera’s infinity. Manual focus works well in this case since you can pre-focus and just leave it there. Point and shoot cameras with a Landscape mode is good too.
  3. Keep It Steady: Use a tripod, the ground, bean bags, beverage cans, or even the roof of your car to angle the camera and keep it steady during the shot since it’s dark and the cameras going to need to stay open much longer. Maybe use a timer so that the camera doesn’t shake when you press the button…this requires a lot of luck and timing so maybe not…
  4. Stuff Besides Fireworks: Including some foreground trees, cars, people, etc will get your image a sense of scale, depth and context. Try different angles.
  5. Slow shutter speeds: Hence the need for a tripod/steady shooting position. Anywhere from 1/8 – 10 seconds can yield a pretty sweet shot. Different fireworks give off different light intensity so you kind of have to experiment and find the best blend of settings that capture the light trails without having the image too bright and washed out.
  6. Aperture and ISO: Should only come after you’ve decided which shutter speed to use. If you set the camera for 10 seconds, A LOT of light will be coming through during that time so maybe use a smaller aperture like f/8 so that it doesn’t get too washed out and bright. ISO should come after Aperture since things can get pretty grainy and gross if you turn it up too high. Start around 200-400.


Starting point:

1 second, f/4, ISO200 – Short shutter speed, larger aperture, low iso…long enough to get streaks and trails but so short that you’d miss any subsequent bursts

4 seconds, f/8 or f/11, ISO200 – Slightly longer exposure time means you get more bursts in each frame but also more light is being allowed to hit the sensor so make the lens aperture even smaller to limit the light. No change to ISO

10 seconds, f/11 – f/16, ISO200 – 10 seconds will capture tons of firework explosions but the super long exposure time lets in more light than you would expect. Plus each additional burst spills uncontrolled amounts of light onto your camera sensor so keeping the aperture tiny is important.

Experiment: Practice different camera settings during the early rounds of fireworks so that you’ll be ready by the time the finale hits…if you do this correctly, the ONE shot you get from the finale will trump all the practice ones.

Also…don’t stress so much about getting that perfect firework shot that you miss enjoying the light fiesta with your family and friends.

Happy 4th of July!




You Might Also Like