Seven ideas for taking decent fireworks photos

Seven ideas for taking decent fireworks photos

When parties push exploding colored lights skyward, it’s time to get out a camera. Firework photography is great!

Grab your tripod

A sturdy tripod on a solid surface is important for solid fireworks images. I once put my tripod on a wooden deck with people moving a bit. Needless to say, all of my firework trails were a mess and virtually useless. Quite a disappointment.

Two tripods wrapped on one leg along with a Gorilla pod. The tripod on the right is one Fotopro USA support. I highly recommend Fotopro Eagle Series for landscape and nature photographers because of its light weight and super construction.

I push my tripod usage and here’s a setup I used last year to support three cameras. Each camera is triggered by an iPad or iPhone, so I don’t touch the cameras and avoid all vibration.

A good base ensures that the fireworks paths can read nicely without “jitters”.

Look at your exposure

Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are equal to your triangle of exposure.

This is a cover photo I made of fireworks over Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas, USVI. Shot with a 4-by-5 ​​camera and Fuji 50 film; 3.5 sec at f/8.


I recommend using your camera’s native ISO. For micro four-thirds, which I use, it’s ISO 200. If you’re shooting a full-frame camera, ISO 100 is the best choice for high-quality shots. Given a choice, you’ll want a lower ISO versus a higher ISO for capturing longer paths.

fireworks image
An image from many years ago with an exposure time of about one second. Beautiful but stronger images come with slightly longer exposures.


Your aperture may vary depending on the look you want. Try f/8 to f/14. The smaller your aperture, the longer you can leave your shutter open.

The aperture also controls any light in the scene. After dark and before the fireworks start, take a few test shots to see how any lights in your scene will appear.

fireworks photo
Fireworks with shorter exposures combined in post production. Note several very short trails of light as there was no time to develop the streaks.

Time exposure

We literally write with light. The light needs time to move through the frame to be recorded. Trails of light falling back to Earth give you a sense of motion in a still image. Searching through my older images to find examples, I found shorter one-second exposures that led to unexciting shots.

palm fireworks
“Palm tree” fireworks erupted. . 3.2 sec, f/14, ISO 200 with the Leica 12-60mm Lumix lens at 12mm.

My more successful exposures range from three to five seconds, consistently giving me interesting trails.

In-camera processing

Olympus pioneered computer shots that work great for fireworks. Live Composite mode lets you watch the fireworks build up on your screen. You can then end the exposure when you think you’ve captured enough bursts in one frame.

Olympus Mark III fireworks photo
The Live Composite mode makes it possible to capture multiple bursts on a single frame while viewing the results in the viewfinder. A total exposure of 16 seconds, capturing only the new light after the first exposure. Four shots at f/14 and ISO 100.

On Olympus E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark III, set the exposure for your first exposure, taking care not to overexpose your background. When you activate the exposure, the camera repeats that exposure until you stop. But it only registers extra light… no shadows.

The Live Composite mode also works great for images of lightning, star trails and car light trails.


Once you’ve created your images, they can fall a little flat in review. There are some good bursts, some a little blown out or in the wrong place in the frame. Time for a little Photoshop magic. Choose your favorite images and work them together.

There’s a bit of magic in Blend Mode. To get started, load your individual shots as layers. Next, change the layer’s blend mode to screen. This will make everything dark disappear – all that’s left is the fireworks.

At that point, you can maneuver the firework to fill the frame. If there are any pieces you want to remove for the good of the composition, you can add a mask to the layer and remove them.

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Cliff Castle building exposure — 1/100 sec, f/5.8, ISO 3200. Fireworks added in post production using screen mode in Adobe Photoshop.

Membership of a photo society and experimentation

Being a member of photography groups and associations can help you improve your photography in many ways. Sharing ideas makes all photographers stronger. I am a member of Association of Professional Photographers in Arizona. Even though I present programs to photography organizations, I am constantly learning from fellow members.

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‘Floral Fireworks’ by my friend Heidi Mixon. We’ll describe her technique for this advanced fireworks shot in another. I haven’t tried this yet. I can not wait. Image © Heidi Mixon.

Example. AZPPA member Heidi Mixon shared this creative concept to get a totally different result when shooting fireworks. She suggests changing the focus while capturing the firework burst. The resulting images look like flowers floating in the air.

Since Heidi was good enough to share her whole process with us, I’m dedicating another post to her technique. I think you will enjoy it!

Yours in creative photography, Bob