Fireworks bring out the happy in everybody. Usually symbolizing a momentous occasion or used in celebration on certain holidays, we all have great memories of watching fireworks.
In high school, a large group of my friends and I would take the Metro train down to the city and we’d claim our spot on Lake Shore Drive to put ourselves in a great viewing position for the Chicago fireworks. Along with 3 million other people, we’d patiently wait until the skies darkened just enough for the city to give the ok to start the show.
Someone was guaranteed to have their point and shoot and we’d casually take subpar firework photos. I’ll have to remind you that I was in high school and that none of us were into photography at the time. So, our shots resembled most people’s firework photos of today captured with their cellphones – blurry and unfocused. With the right equipment you can capture great shots of fireworks, but there are techniques to apply.
Here are 5 tips on how to take some amazing firework photos.
1. Plan Ahead
Like most successful shoots planning ahead is always a good idea. Scout the location, think through your backgrounds and foregrounds. The last thing you want is to setup your tripod, fire off some test shots, dial-in exposure only to have people stand up in front of your camera.
Also, don’t forget the natural elements you can’t control, like wind and sunset. Wind is important to consider because of the direction the smoke blows. Be aware of your position so that you don’t have a full frame of white smoke blocking the fireworks. Most fireworks begin when the sky is “dark enough.” Remember that one side of the sky will be brighter than the other side. Do you want a partially lit horizon or a pitch-black night sky?
Use a tripod to stabilize your camera or place your camera on a surface that won’t move it out of position. Stabilizing is important because long exposures are necessary for the best possible firework photos. It might even be a good idea to use a remote shutter release or a self-timer to be absolutely sure you avoid knocking the camera out of position.
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3. Avoid Noise
Most firework photos are grainy because of the lowlight conditions, so make sure to have your settings correct. Set your ISO to as low as possible, ideally at 100. The higher the ISO setting the more noise your photos will have. Also, remember to turn off any type of noise reduction features your camera might have.
4. Correct Exposure
As mentioned, long exposures are necessary. To achieve the interesting light streaks that we commonly see in firework photography, dial in the correct shutter speed. All conditions will be different, but you could see yourself shooting as long as 30 second shutter speeds.
Set your aperture accordingly. Each situation will be different, but dial in the correct aperture for the effect you’re trying to achieve. Remember that the fireworks are bright, so knowing that, combined with long exposure, means shooting in apertures of f/8 or higher.
The last thing to remember with settings is making sure your frame is in focus. Most likely the fireworks are set off pretty far from the general audience so turning off auto focus and adjusting to “infinity” on your focus ring would be best. If you can direct your frame to an object or building close to where the fireworks will be, it might even be a good idea to pull focus through the viewfinder by zooming in and peeping at the sharpness.
Don’t forget that once you’ve set your tripod up, you probably won’t have an opportunity to move again so be mindful of your composition. Most of the firework shows I’ve experienced are filled with lots of people and mobility is a luxury. As I mentioned in my first point of planning ahead, think your image through and compose accordingly. If the pyrotechnics fire off some test shots, take advantage of it. This is a good opportunity to see where the fireworks will be in the sky. Remember that the bursts will vary. Some will be large and others will be low to the horizon.
The best tip on firework photography I can pass on is don’t be shy to experiment. Each situation is going to be different so balancing exposure with the ambient lights and light emitting from the explosion will vary. Also, don’t forget that the sky will change as the night continues so constantly peek at your shots to adjust if necessary.
Do you have any other tips we can add to this article, post them below before the 4th of July and we’ll add them here. Have fun during the holiday weekend and be safe with your own fireworks!