Tips for Amazing Fireworks Photography

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  By Jennifer Berube
Tips for Amazing Fireworks Photography

If you want to test your skills as a photographer, then fireworks photography is the way to do it! Not only will you be shooting at night, the subject of your shot is a moving pyrotechnics display. If you want to include more in the frame, such as the crowd or the skyline, you’re adding more complications to the process. Let’s get started by looking at what equipment you’ll need.

What to Pack in Your Bag

The following are absolutely essential to bring with you:

  • Tripod
  • Cable release
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • An SLR or DSLR camera

The flashlight will come in handy when you’re trying to find equipment or change settings on your camera. You’ll need the tripod and cable release to keep the camera steady, and this is very important for good fireworks photography. A slight shake of your hand, or even from pressing the shutter release, will cause blurring and distortion. Don’t skip out on the battery either, you’ll be using settings that can drain the power faster than usual.

Get There Early

As with any event photography, you want to get there before the crowds and scout a good location. There are different elements to take into account when you’re focusing on fireworks instead of people. One factor is smoke from the fireworks. This will get increasingly worse as the night goes on, so make sure you’re upwind from the display to minimize the problem.

The other things to take into account are how you want to frame the shot and what you want to include within it. If you want the horizon line, especially if there are buildings or bridges silhouetted against it, you need to make sure your shot is even. While an angle can produce a unique artistic effect, you’re going to want to stick with the same frame throughout the evening. It’s better to go with a level shot unless you want all your photographs to be taken from that artistic angle.

Camera Settings for Fireworks Photography

This is where things start to get a little tricky. It’s best to use manual mode, and you’re going to have to play around to get the exact look that you’re going for. Here’s a rundown of the basic settings and how you can manipulate them for different shots:

  • Shutter Speed: A slow shutter speed is best for fireworks. Anywhere between 2.5 to 8 seconds will work depending on what look you want. Too low and you’ll get stunted fireworks without long trails, too high and the middle of the fireworks will turn out almost solid white. If your camera has a bulb setting, use it. This will allow you complete control over the exposure of each individual shot.
  • Aperture: You can play around with this, but suggested settings fall between f/8 and f/16. The middle range is best and will produce nice sharp images.
  • ISO: Low range is adequate as a higher ISO will produce more noise. Try a setting of 100/200. There will already be smoke interference, so it’s best not to add to it.
  • White Balance: This is a matter of preference in some ways as the white balance will alter the color of the fireworks. For RAW, just set the white balance to auto. If you’re not using RAW, you can play with automatic color filters to see if one gives a truer color than another.
  • Focus: Turn off autofocus! It’s far better to frame the shot early, when it’s still light out, and choose the focus manually. You can also start with autofocus, then switch to manual. That way, the camera automatically chooses a good focus without wasting time by refocusing between shots.

You should turn off noise reduction, flash, and vibration reduction as these settings will ultimately work against you.

A Handy Trick from the Professionals

If your camera has the bulb setting, you can use a small black piece of cardboard to create a neat effect. Make sure it’s not glossy as this will ruin the end result. Basically, hold the cardboard in front of your lens at the end of a burst of fireworks, then remove it at the beginning of the next one. The reason you need the bulb to do this is so that you can hold the exposure from the end of one burst and the beginning of another. If you do it right, the image will have double exposure and should show both firework bursts in the same shot. It can be tricky to do, but it’s well worth the effort.

No matter what, remember to have some fun with it. Not only are you at a beautiful fireworks display, you get to photograph it! Even if your shots don’t come out right, you’ll learn something from the process. Keep trying and you’re sure to land an amazing shot one day!

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Before I became Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, I spent over five years specializing in Photography Writing and contributed articles regularly to sites like PictureCorrect, Sleeklens, and PhotoWorkout. Photography has always been a huge passion of mine; I may not be professionally trained in the art, but the knowledge and experience I have gained writing about photography techniques, interviewing some of the biggest and most inspiring photographers out there, and covering industry events has been invaluable!

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