How to Shoot Fireworks

Don’t you just love those bursts of brilliant color? And the “Oohs” and “Aahs” of the spectators at a fireworks display? Yet when you try to capture those moments on camera, the images come out shaky or blurred. Here are a few tips for capturing those fantastic fireworks.

Note: These tips are specifically for DSLR users. If you are using a compact camera or a smartphone, your camera probably has a setting for Fireworks. Use it!

1. Use a tripod and a shutter release.

It’s dark and the only light you see will be the brilliant color of the fireworks. You will be using a very slow shutter speed to capture those bursts, so you will need a tripod to hold the camera steady. Using a shutter release, either a cable or wireless remote, will also keep shake out of your photos.

2. Use a zoom lens.

Sometimes you want a panoramic view of the fireworks; other times, you want a close-up. A zoom lens will cover all bases.

3. Turn off image stabilization (IS).

You don’t need image stabilization, also called vibration reduction, because your camera is firmly supported by the tripod. Image stabilization is very useful when you are hand-holding the camera; it adjusts for camera shake. While some camera systems can detect that your camera is on a tripod, other systems can’t and may try to compensate unnecessarily.

4. Use Manual mode.

Set your camera to Manual mode, then use the following settings:

Aperture: f/11

An aperture of f/11 will ensure that the entire burst is sharp and clear and foreground objects like buildings are also sharp.

Shutter speed: Bulb mode

Your camera probably has a very long shutter speed setting called Bulb. On my Canon, I can set Bulb mode by changing to Manual mode and dialing the shutter speed past 30 seconds. In Bulb mode, you can tell the camera when to start and stop capturing an image. It’s great when you need to precisely time a capture.

ISO: 100

Set the lowest ISO you can use to reduce noise in the photos. Because the camera is on a tripod, you can use an ISO of 100.

White balance: Tungsten

Try setting the white balance to Tungsten to capture those glaringly bright lights.

5. Use manual focus.

Shut of auto-focus and turn on manual focus. Focus on the first burst of fireworks and just leave the focus in that position.

6. Take the photo.

You can use your shutter release with Bulb mode to time the capture of fireworks bursts. Start the capture when the fireworks are ascending into the sky and stop the capture after the burst. Most displays will take between 3-6 seconds.

What if you want to capture multiple bursts in one shot? Cut out a small square of black poster board. Start the capture at the beginning of the first burst, but do not stop it at the end. With the camera still recording, place the black square over the lens until the next burst. Then, remove the black square to record the second burst, too. Repeat until you have captured all the bursts you want, then stop recording.

8. Shoot in both landscape and portrait mode.

Switch it up for a different view of the fireworks bursts. Some of those bursts have long tails and others are like floral bouquets.

Enjoy those spectacular displays and capture some memories to take home with you!