Editor’s note: This is a reprint article, updated to take physical distancing requirements into consideration during this COVID-19 pandemic.Photographing good fireworks pictures is not that difficult as long as you know and apply some easy tips. While you can get good fireworks pictures by simply pointing at the sky and taking a snapshot of the exploding cascade of colors, knowing why they turn out so-so or great will help you increase your keepers rate.
If you look carefully at the fireworks pictures you really like, chances are that they all include some kind of recognizable buildings, scenery or interesting elements. These could be a skyline, a famous landmark, silhouettes of people, etc.
Therefore, it’s smart 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, of course, lots of unobstructed sky space.
You don’t want to be too closed to the fireworks display because the explosion can be so bright that it will result in a big overexposed blob of light.
Remember also that, if you are photographing in a public place where a lot of people will congregate to watch the fireworks show, wear a mask and try to maintain appropriate physical distancing.
You may also 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, select some kind of higher ground to provide yourself a clear view.
I shot the above picture from a hotel balcony (using a point-and-shoot camera).
- With fireworks photography, long exposures (4 seconds) are common, and so a tripod may be recommended, though you may also rest the camera on a solid surface. Some cameras have very efficient image stabilization that may allow you to handhold them during a long exposure.
- 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 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. (However, be careful not touch the glass element of your lens or that will leave an oily smudge).
Shutter Speed/Scene Mode
If you are using a smart phone, you are quite restricted in what you can adjust, and so a smartphone is not the best camera to use. If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, chances are there will be a Fireworks Scene Mode that you can use. Or select a shutter spped of about 4 seconds.
With an Interchangeable Lens Camera (mirrorless or DSLR), you have more options in choosing shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
Remember that, if you include a faraway building in your picture, you should expose for the building. If your camera has AE-Lock, then point at the building, touch the AE-L button to lock exposure, and recompose. Or, if your camera features Touch AE, touch the building on screen and lock exposure there.
You will 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 (using the “cover lens with hand” technique).
Aperture: Fat or Thin Trails?
One important choice is whether you like to capture the trail and, if so, whether you prefer it to be fat or thin.
Use a large (e.g., f/2.8) aperture for a fat trail.
Use a small aperture (e.g., f/8) for a thin trail.
Skip the Trails
Sometimes, I prefer to leave the trail out of my fireworks picture altogether and capture only the shimmering colors after the explosion.
Let the firework rise into the sky, and wait just a second or so after the explosion. Then open the shutter (or, if you are using Bulb or Time mode, uncover the lens cap) to capture the fully bloomed display — and the beautiful falling sparks.
In the above photo, I skipped the trail, waiting for the explosion to bloom before triggering the shutter.
Read more tips in our Fireworks Tutorial.