How to take Great Fireworks Photos
I’m often asked How to Take Great Fireworks Photos. I have the same answer every time and that is, practice. The key to taking great fireworks photos is knowing how to capture the pyro while keeping the frame stable and in crisp focus. Taking Fireworks Photos is not the most difficult skill to master, these are my tips for to take the very best photos of pyrotechnics.
At some point in the year you will get a chance to take photos of fireworks displays. The normal events for fireworks displays are New Year’s Eve, Independence Days, Festivals and sometimes even weddings. From a photography point of view taking great fireworks photos is not the most technical thing you will encounter in your photography journey. Once you do a few successful firework events you will be sure to have it mastered.
There are a few things to consider for getting the best fireworks photos; pre-planning your location, the camera, the tripod and the technique (including your camera settings).
The Location of the Fireworks
Now that you know where the general area for the firework display is you now need your spot. If the pyrotechnics display takes place in a public place, you can be sure there will be a large crowd – keep this in mind. Take a look at the obstructions, what could get in your way but also interesting foregrounds or backdrops. Fireworks in the black of night are not that interesting so keep it in context, e.g. landmarks or monuments.
Next, you need to be there early to ensure you have your spot. Even better if you have clear leg-room so that your tripod is not kicked or knocked by the onlooking crowd. Plus, you should choose a place that’s comfortable, as you might be here for a while, and it could get cold. Regarding locations, taking shots from bridges can be a problem, as the traffic, either cars or people, can create a slight but noticeable (to the camera) bounce or vibration on the bridge.
You can also take into consideration the fact that many other people will be taking photos, so why not take an unusual viewpoint, perhaps ask someone for access to a rooftop or even a property nearby but at a different angle than everyone else. This way you get the unique shots and also you won’t have crowds to contend with. With photography of a public event, always try to have a different angle or niche, so your photos differ from the thousands of other photos taken of that moment.
I use all Canon gear. I have a 7D, 450D and a 1100D. All of these have produced great results for me in the past. Therefore, you don’t need the top of the range in order to get great fireworks photos.
There are some items which can help, a wide angle lens and a cable release. If you don’t have a cable release, a remote or Infrared remote will do also.
The wide angle lens works well for me as you get a great view of the surroundings and also the spray of the fireworks. I use the Tamron 10-24 lens which I got a few years ago, relatively inexpensive and has decent sharpness. The cable release basically means you can enjoy the show and either have it on repeat or on manual cable release mode. i.e. you can press the button on the cable release when you want to take a photo or you can have it depressed so that it is continually shooting.
Note, on your lens, if you have image stabilisation (IS on Canon) or vibration reduction (VR on Nikon/Nikkor) then you should turn this off. Image Stabilisation will actually induce blur/vibration when on a tripod. One other tip, ensure your lens is really clean, you don’t want dust spots on your lovely photos. They may not show up at night but give yourself every chance for a good shot.
Next you need to focus the lens. Choose a point at infinity and view it through your digital display on the back of the camera. Now zoom in using the + function, on Canon I can go 10x. Now turn off auto-focus and use manual-focus to get that pin sharp. From here you need to ensure the lens is not touched or if it is you know where to focus to.
A good sturdy tripod is probably the most essential thing you need for great fireworks photos. I had a light aluminium one a few years ago, which did me for a while but I soon saw the limitations. I purchased a second hand Monofrotto and it’s a different ball game! It’s heavy, sturdy and is firm even in a breeze. When taking long exposures you need a tripod which will not move a millimetre.
Attach your camera on and point in the direction of the fireworks. You can leave one of the handles slightly fluid in case you need to move the point of view, but secure all the other areas of the tripod which could move.
The Camera settings for Great Fireworks Photos
The settings I have used in the past normally start off as follows ISO 100, f13 and shutter speed of 7 seconds. This is my starting point and based on my first few shots. If there is not enough action in the shot I either increase the time of the shot (shutter speed) and close down the aperture more (higher number). However, if there is too much firework activity I do the exact opposite, a more open aperture (lower number) and less shutter speed time. I am keeping the ISO at 100 to reduce noise but you can play with this if you know how the exposure triangle works.
Always review the first 3-5 shots for crispness, so you will need to sacrifice 40-50 seconds of the show in order to do this, but this ensures the rest of the fireworks show will be perfect.
The Card Trick
There is another trick you can use, which uses pitch black card or even a thick black felt cloth.
For this you will need the cable release. Set your camera on Bulb setting which basically leaves the shutter open until you choose to close it. You cover the lens with the card or cloth, trying not to wobble or move the camera. Then when there is a fireworks burst uncover it. You can do this multiple times so as to capture multiple fireworks bursts set within the one exposure. It would certainly make your fireworks photos different from the rest as most would only be able to capture bursts as they come. With this technique for capturing fireworks, you can capture pyro bursts 1,2,5 and 7 for a very interesting and different composite result.
I hope this guide to taking the best fireworks photos was a help to you. Please take a look at my photo gallery of fireworks below for some of my pyrotechnic shots.
Having the following items done well will result in truly great fireworks photos;
- a good, well researched location
- a cable release or infrared remote (to ensure a steady camera)
- a steady camera fitted to a quality tripod
- a clean wide angle lens focused correctly with IS/VR turned off
- well exposed camera settings
- chimping / checking the first few images to ensure they are in line with your expectations