Shooting Fireworks

Posted on: July 2nd, 2011 3

It’s Really Easy

I love low-light, long-exposure shooting. Yet, I never shot fireworks before! I did last night so I just wanted to show you how easy it is. I’ll keep this article short because I want to just give y’all a quick reference on how you can do it yourself.

What You Need

First things first. You need a camera (duh). You need a tripod. This is an absolute must. You will never get crisp fireworks shots hand-held…..forget it. Next…….well, there’s no next! In terms of gear, a camera and tripod is it.

Setting Up

Assuming you at least have already chosen a spot and put your camera on a tripod, it gets real simple. You just need a long shutter and a small-ish aperture.

For a DSLR (or a fully manual Point and Shoot):

  • Go manual. Set your mode wheel to Manual. You camera ain’t gonna have a clue what exposure to set so you must take control.
  • If you have a remote shutter release, use it. That will eliminate any camera shake. If you don’t have one, time your shutter release for when there aren’t any fireworks….preferably just before a rocket goes off. This is one reason why an exposure that allows for a long shutter speed is a good thing… have enough time to anticipate a rocket launch, without having to nail it perfectly.
  • Set your ISO to the LOWEST setting. Light sensitivity is not an issue since you can simply adjust your shutter speed/aperture combination to dial in more or less ambient (non-fireworks) light. Low ISO = less noise so set it low.
  • Set your aperture to around f/11. You want to set an exposure that will minimize ambient light, because the fireworks themselves are really bright. This is just a suggestion, BTW. You should DEFINITELY try different f/stops for different looks.
  • Set you shutter to @ 8 seconds. You want a long enough shutter to capture the fireworks light trails. Again…..just a suggestion. You can get cool trails at 2 seconds…..or 1 second! Remember, both shutter speed and f/stop will influence how much ambient light informs the shot, so you really need to experiment. If you are shooting Macy’s fireworks on the Hudson River, the city light will be emitting a TON more ambient light than at the Colts Neck Fair, where I shot the photos below. So PLEASE don’t think you’re gonna dial in the numbers I suggest above and get great results. Every situation is different.
  • FOCUS? Well, this can be simple or not. If your lens has a little infinity marker in the lens barrel, turn AF (auto-focus) off and set it to the infinity mark. If not, turn on AF, set a focal plane roughly 100 feet or so away, and turn OFF AF. That should get your scene inside the DoF (depth of field).

For a Point and Shoot

  • Dial in SCN, or Scene Mode. Then scroll to Fireworks. You may have the Fireworks preset available right on the Mode wheel, if you have one. Please consult your manual to find out how to select Fireworks for your specific camera.
  • Er….that’s it!!!!
  • Well, not really. You still have to be careful when you press the shutter.
  • You still need a tripod.

(For some examples of the images you’ll get in the Fireworks preset, click HERE to see some shots my wife Lucille took with my Canon S90 in Fireworks mode.)

What You Need To Do

Anticipate the action. Simply look for a rocket trail heading skyward, and open the shutter. Check out the shot. You simply adjust your exposure to get different looks. That’s really all there is to it.

Here are a few examples. This first shot was 2 seconds at f/4.5. Notice how much ambient light there was due to the wide aperture.

Click on any image to see a larger version:

This shot below was 4 seconds at f/11. A lot less ambient!

Adding some context can create a more interesting composition. Try including the surrounding scene in the shot. In the photo below I included the parking lot I was shooting from.


This last shot below was 10 seconds at f/32. A super-small aperture gave me hardly any ambient light, so it’s mostly the light from the fireworks:

And here are a few from my wife Lucille, who was using my Canon S90 in Fireworks mode….a fully automatic setting. Hint…..she knows NOTHING about exposure:

Click on any image to see a larger version.

All in all, a pretty nifty experience. This stuff is real easy folks. Give it a shot! Hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions leave a comment!

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3 Responses

  1. aileen says:

    thanks Gary, I will give it a shot ! Your photos are Great !

  2. Carl D says:

    Gary —

    I too love low light and have some cool night shots from Amsterdam and London, but have never been able to get fireworks quite right.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Bill Philcox says:

    Great article, appropriate too. Hope I can try it this year. Weather might be iffy.

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