How to Photograph Fireworks

I usually have a lot of people ask me around this time of year how to take good photos of the Fourth of July fireworks. Here are some helpful tips so you can get some great images this weekend!

What gear to do you need?

You’ll need a tripod and a camera that has both manual focus and manual exposure. I love shooting with my iPhone but sadly this time it probably won’t cut it. An entry level DSLR or even a point and shoot camera with these criteria should work fine. Bring your phone or a flashlight to illuminate your camera so you can see all the buttons in the dark. Lastly remember to charge your batteries and bring plenty of memory cards.

Lens wise I usually bring my Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8. I like to switch between focal lengths to get a better variety of images. Also your location and proximity to the fireworks makes a big impact on what focal length you’ll be using as well. If you are farther away you’ll probably be using longer lenses. If you are closer you can get away with using wider lenses. Come prepared and bring a standard zoom and telephoto zoom lens.

What exposure should you use?

For fireworks you’ll need to use the Manual exposure mode on your camera. Finding the right exposure takes a bit of trial an error. I usually start with a 3 second exposure at f/11 at 100 ISO. Take a few tests shots and check your screen frequently to make sure your exposure is correct.

The longer exposure of 3 seconds makes it so the firework has time to explode so you get the trails. Shorter exposures will make the trails smaller. The opposite is also true that the longer exposure will make the trails longer.

The longer exposure makes your image more prone to increased noise so make sure to keep you ISO low. I usually shot at 100 ISO.

How do you focus?

Autofocus and fireworks don’t work well together. Just like auto exposure and fireworks don’t work well together. You’ll need to manually focus the image. The good thing is once you’re is in focus you won’t need to change it for the rest of the night if you stay in the same spot. Usually with fireworks you’re fairly far away so the correct focus is a little bit before infinity. Manually focus once the fireworks start.

How do you time the best firework shot?

To prevent blur I not only shoot on a tripod but also use a two second timer. This prevents the image from getting blurry because of me touching the camera. To time the perfect firework shot I press the shutter approximately 2 or 3 seconds before the firework explodes.

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Photographer/Retoucher at Ryan Watkins Photography
Ryan Watkins Photography specializes in portrait and wedding photography catering to Clare, Mt Pleasant, and Midland, Michigan. Ready to travel anywhere in the state. 

Graduate from the Hallmark Institute of Photography and Highest Academic Honor recipient. 

Published in several magazines including Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and PDNedu. 
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