How to Photograph Fireworks
I hope everyone had a great July 4th celebration. I just got back from a camping trip around Mt Hood and while the stars were mind boggling, there were no fireworks to have fun with. So I figured I’d go back in my collection and share some shots I had taken in the past. I’ll also explain some techniques on how to photograph fireworks and make them look a little different!
Fireworks are way easier to shoot than one might think! Follow the simple steps listed below to make sure your next time you photograph fireworks is fun and will reward you with a few keepers.
How to Photograph Fireworks
Pick your shooting location wisely. This will probably not work with most of your friends who will want to enjoy the show as close as possible, but consider backing up. This will give you a unique view of the fireworks and will allow you to incorporate more elements in your composition. Keep it simple but experiment a little. A building somewhere in the shot can give a great sense of dimension. Try to avoid distracting elements, such as power-lines; which I failed to do here as you can see.
Check the wind, which will also influence your shooting location. As fireworks explode, they release smoke. Photograph fireworks as much as you can at the very beginning to avoid smoke. Try shooting downwind so that the smoke moves away from you. Make sure you are comfortable and appropriately equipped for the conditions. The nights can get much colder than one would think and you might be sitting the whole time. Pick wisely between beer or hot-chocolate… hot toddy anyone?
3. Gear and settings
Use a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter if you have one. Set your camera to manual focus mode, ISO 100 (or 200 depending on cameras), f/8 and BULB mode. Release the shutter just before a firework pops and hold it as long as you want. Experiment from there and make your own adjustments. Set your camera’s white balance to whatever temperature looks good to you, 5300K is a good place to start. Take test shots before the show if you can. Set your lens to manual focus and focus it to infinity. Use an object far away, such as a star (this depends on your position and your lens choice). Don’t touch the focus ring once focused unless you want to experiment (I’ll talk about this further down).
Incorporate something in your composition to give the fireworks more dimension and tell a story. Everyone has seen firework pictures so you need to make yours more interesting.
Without letting go the shutter remote, cover the lens with a cap or something else black in between fireworks to get more than one in your shot. Make sure you don’t jerk the camera if you have something else than the fireworks in your composition. Try to do this trick at the very beginning of the show, otherwise you might get repetitive clouds of smoke in your shot, which looks weird (second shot below).
Have fun! Make sure your concentration doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of fireworks.
Experiment! You’re going to have plenty of those colorful wonders exploding in the sky, lots of your pictures will look-alike. Zoom in or out during an exposure. Throw your lens in and out of focus as fireworks explode to make them look like anemones. This also brings out much more color. Wiggle your camera around when the shutter is open to draw lines and other abstract shapes.
I hope those tips will help you next time you have the opportunity to see and photograph fireworks. Share your results in the comments.