Fourth of July is a day that traditionally means fireworks in the United States. Although you may or may not celebrate this holiday, summer is a season full of fireworks. Sporting events, theme parks and national holidays… it’s not a party until something explodes in the sky.
We’ve updated our post about shooting fireworks. These are just basic tips — this isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing article, but rather a starting point. We hope you find something useful here.
1. Explore and stake out your favorite spot early. Finding the right vantage point is crucial to good fireworks photography. Make sure you have a clear view of the sky. Make sure you have legal permission to be at the place you select for a vantage point. Also think about safety first. Make sure you are not in an area where the fireworks will land near you. One of my favorite things to do is find a place with a lake or pond that I can put in the foreground. This gives a chance to do cool things with reflections.
2. Use a tripod. Use a STURDY tripod. You need long exposures to capture the dazzling fireworks billowing through the sky, so handheld shots don’t work. (Make sure tripods are allowed at your chosen vantage point).
3. Make sure the ground is vibration-free. It doesn’t matter if your tripod is sturdy if the ground below it isn’t. Many porches, patios, boardwalks, docks, etc. will be sensitive to subtle vibrations (or even not-so-subtle movements) as the crowd moves about. Make sure the ground is firm under your feet.
4. Use slow shutter speeds. For most fireworks shots, an ISO of 250 with an exposure of four seconds at f8 should be a good starting point. Look at your histogram and image on the back of the camera and adjust your exposure by adjusting the shutter speed. You may want slower shutter speeds, in which case your camera’s BULB setting will come in handy.
5. If your camera has a long exposure noise reduction mode, use it. Digital cameras can produce noisy (grainy) pictures when the shutter is activated for longer than one second. The noise reduction mode on most cameras eliminates or reduces this problem. If you’re not getting enough light, it’s better (especially with modern cameras) to crank up the ISO rather than lengthen the exposure.
6. Shoot RAW. The ability to clean up noise and restore highlights in a raw file is useful when you want to clean up your photo. With fireworks you have a high-contrast scene. Raw is the best path for most shooters.
7. DO NOT use a flash. It won’t help. Period of time.
8. Set your focus point to infinity, then turn autofocus off. This will improve and speed up the performance of your camera. Many shots are missed when photographers suffer from camera time searching for focus. Set it and forget it.
9. Carry multiple formatted memory cards. Format these cards beforehand as you will be working in the dark. You don’t want to mess with getting each card ready if it’s hard to see what you’re doing.
10. Let there be light. Bring a small flashlight so you can read your camera’s dials in the dark.
11. Give the photo some context. If possible, use a strong object in the foreground, such as a local landmark, to contrast the fireworks against.
12. Change your composition. Don’t forget to take both vertical and horizontal views of the fireworks.
Experiment and have fun. You will get the best results if you practice your technique.
Disclaimer: These tips are intended to help you take better photos. Combine them with your own skills to get great results.