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.
Remember that, if you are photographing in 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.
- 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 will leave a smudge that will get recorded).
If you are using a smart phone, you are quite restricted in what you can adjust, and so 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. This will usually leave the shutter open for about 3 to 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 scene (or building) in your picture, you should then be exposing for the scene (or building). If your camera has AE-Lock, then point at the scene (or building), touch the AE-L button to lock exposure and recompose. 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).
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 large (e.g., f/2.8 for a fat trail) or small aperture (e.g., f/8 for a thin trail). Sometimes, I prefer to leave the trail out of my fireworks picture completely and expose only for the shimmering colors after the explosion.
If you opt to capture the trail, then you will also be capturing the explosion. Depending on how far away you are to the display, the explosion itself can be so bright that it will usually result in a big overexposed blob of light in the sky. But if you skip the trail, and wait just a second or so later after the explosion to open the shutter (or, if you are in Bulb or Time mode, to uncover the lens cap), you can then capture the fully bloomed and beautiful falling sparks. 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.