How to photograph fireworks

how to photograph fireworks

The Fourth of July is almost here and most of us love to watch fireworks, right?  I know that evening firework display in my small home town is something my family really looks forward to each year.  In an effort to get better at photography and to capture the beautiful displays, I started doing my research a few years ago into how to photograph fireworks and I want to share what I’ve learned with you!

how to photograph fireworks

2 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

It’s a tricky thing to get better at since at most you get to see fireworks a couple of times a year and they don’t last for more that 10 or 15 minutes.  So, I thought I’d give you some tips on how to photograph fireworks so that you too can photograph them and walk away with a photo of which you’re proud.

The first thing to keep in mind is that these will all be tips relating to using your DSLR to photograph fireworks.  Most cell phone sensors just aren’t powerful enough to capture fireworks in the same way as your DSLR.  I’ve put the camera settings used under each photo because I know that kind of information helps me when learning.  🙂

1. The most important thing to remember when photographing fireworks is that your camera needs to stay still.

You can use a tripod or prop it up on something sturdy, but whatever you do it needs to stay still.  We will be using a slow shutter speed (usually a few seconds) so any movement that the camera makes will result in a photo that isn’t clear and sharp.  Using a remote shutter release or the self timer are both good options for releasing the shutter without touching & moving the camera.

On the subject of shutter speed, you can use the “bulb” method if you have that option on your camera which allows the shutter to stay open as long as you’re pressing the button (hopefully on your remote shutter).  Once you let your finger off the button, the shutter closes.  If you don’t have that option, then you’ll just want to use a shutter speed of 1-2 seconds to start with.  You can play around with the shutter speed once the fireworks are going to see what is going to give you your desired results.  Don’t keep it open for too long or you’ll risk overexposing your photo because there will be too many bright fireworks going off all at once.  

how to photograph fireworks

3.2 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

2.  Shoot in manual

Use manual mode so you can control settings, but also set your focus to manual.  Once the fireworks start, get your focus ring set and leave it.  The auto focus on your camera will have a hard time keeping up and you’ll miss some great shots.

3.  Keep your aperture small

Since it’ll be dark, you might think you want your aperture opened up quite a bit, but in reality something in the f/8 to f/16 range is good.  Fireworks put out a lot of light on their own, so to compensate you want to stop your aperture down a bit.

4. Keep your ISO low

Also on the subject of light, you’ll want to keep your ISO low – 100 is good.  Again, those fireworks put out a lot of light which will be plenty for your sensor.  Keeping it low will also ensure you don’t end up with grain in the dark parts of your image.

5.  Set up the setting

If you’ll be around buildings, you may want to arrive early to scope out where will be the best place to photograph the fireworks and get the buildings (or other important elements) in the shot as well.  I often end up in a field with not much around, so most of my firework photos don’t have any other elements in the foreground to make them more interesting.  There isn’t really a place I can think of going where I

how to photograph fireworks

3.2 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

would be able to incorporate something else in the photo.  I sure would like to someday and maybe I need to scope out a better place for our family to enjoy the fireworks.  🙂

6.  Don’t do this

I would encourage you to NOT do what I did in this next photo, and try to stay away from poles and wires.  A perfectly good firework photo messed up by stinkin’ wires I could have avoided by choosing a different spot to view the fireworks.

7.  Enjoy the show

It’s a good idea to check your images periodically throughout the fireworks show to make sure you’re on track, but be sure you’re not looking at the back of your camera too much.  Remember to enjoy the moment and soak up the memories you’re making.

I hope these tips help you know how to photograph fireworks this year!  I’d love for you to tag me on instagram if you take some photos using these tips.

Comment below with any questions or any place I wasn’t clear and I’ll do my best to help you out!


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