Photographing Fireworks

By Kathy Neer

It’s the Fourth of July!  That means food, family, fun, and fireworks!  You love capturing all those fun moments, but when it comes to photographing fireworks, it can get a bit tricky.  The fireworks are bright, moving, and it can be hard to capture that perfect shot.  Here are a few tips to help you keep your memories of that great show you saw.

Photographing fireworks takes practice and that’s not easy.  You may only go to one fireworks show a year.  I am fortunate; my husband is a professional pyrotechnician and I attend several shows a year, giving me a chance to practice.  I have learned some things about fireworks photography in the past several years, both from practice and my association with the Cookeville Camera Club.

Keeping your camera steady is important; otherwise your photos will be distorted.  A tripod for your camera is a must. I was once invited to photograph my husband’s show at one of the local marinas from a boat.  I was excited but didn’t think about the fact that even the biggest of boats isn’t steady.  I had some pretty abstract photos, but it wasn’t exactly what I was going for.  If you’re using your phone, some tripods have adapters for camera phones.  A remote shutter release is helpful; just that little bit of movement when you press the shutter button with your finger can give you wiggly lines.  A wide angle lens is best; it is easier to get the fireworks in the frame and catch the bursts when they happen.

Let’s talk about settings.  If your camera has settings you can change, use a low ISO, lower than 200.  To get the sharpest photos, use an aperture of f/8 to f/16.  Put your camera on manual focus; most of the fireworks will be the same distance away, but your camera will have to focus for each one if you use auto focus. Manual focus will keep you from missing shots. If you are far enough away, just focus for infinity and you will be fine. Turn your flash off.  If you aren’t able to change settings on your camera, some smaller cameras and phones have a “fireworks” setting.  This setting just uses a longer shutter speed and as long as you keep the camera steady and push the button just before the burst.

Once you have done your settings, it’s time to find your spot and shoot!  Don’t get too close; the farther away from the action you are, the better shots you’ll get.  Set up the tripod and camera, and take a few test shots.  When the show starts, you can follow the trail of the shell and see where the burst will happen.  You want to take the shot at the peak of the burst.  This is where that remote shutter release comes in handy.  Press the shutter release just before the shell fires and keep it pressed for at least two seconds. This way, you will get the entire burst in the photo.  During multiple bursts like the finale, you may want to keep it pressed a second or two longer to capture several bursts in one shot.

Happy Fourth of July, and I hope you get some great fireworks photos!