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Celebrate Independence Day With Creative Fireworks Photography

Most of us can shoot good fireworks pictures by simply pointing at the sky and taking a snapshot of the exploding cascade of colors. But after dozens, if not hundreds of such photos, you tire quickly of them. This is when it’s time to get creative with your fireworks photography: instead of simply shooting the fireworks themselves, consider shooting a landscape with fireworks in it.

Location
You can choose recognizable buildings and scenery, or some element that looks interesting at night.

This means that you may have to scout the area ahead of time to find the right perspective and a composition that you like. You need an interesting foreground and/or background, and lots of unobstructed sky space.

When scouting a place, one thing that you may not consider that will ruin all your preparations is that, if it is a public place where a lot of people will congregate to watch the fireworks show, then you may have lots of people standing in front of you when the event starts, perhaps obscuring the scene you have so carefully composed earlier when the place was empty. So, some kind of higher ground may be preferable.

Equipment

  • With fireworks photography, long exposures are common, and so a sturdy tripod is a must.
  • A small flashlight (or your cellphone plus the light app) can help you see in the dark to experiment and change settings on your camera.
  • Lens cap, a (black) card or hat/cap to put in front of your camera lens when the shutter is open and you are waiting for the next explosion to occur. Or, do as many of us do: use your hand (but do not touch the glass element of your lens for that wil leave a smudge that will get recorded).

Exposure Settings
If you have a point-and-shoot camera, chances are there will be a Fireworks scene mode that you can use. This will usually leave the shutter open for about 3 to 4 seconds.

With an Interchangeable Lens Camera, you have more options in choosing shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Remember that, if you include a scene in your picture, you are then exposing for the scene. You may want to choose a low ISO for the best image quality. This will also give you a longer shutter speed to record more than one fireworks explosion.

One important choice is whether you like to capture the trail and, if so, whether you prefer it to be fat or thin. This is where you decide on whether to use a big (fat trail) or small aperture (thin trail). I prefer to leave the trail out of my fireworks picture completely and expose only for the shimmering colors after the explosion.

I find the explosion itself too bright and it usually results in a big overexposed blob of light in the sky. By waiting just a second or so later after the explosion, I uncover the lens to capture the fully bloomed and falling sparks, then cover the lens and wait for the next explosion. This way, you are still exposing for the scene and capturing interesting fireworks without overexposing your shot.

Continue reading for more tips in our Fireworks Tutorial.