Over the years I have put together a number of posts featuring fireworks imagery. But, I have never given a tutorial or how-to on best practices for shooting fireworks. So,in light of the upcoming holiday, figured now would be as good a time as any to share some pointers on how to photograph fireworks.
The Rules for Shooting Fireworks
- The first step is to get there early - well before dusk. If you want a good spot, you'll need to be there in advance of the crowds and masses. This way you'll get a nice field of view without people blocking your sight lines.
- Set up on a tripod! This is almost an essential thing to do. Even if you hate tripods and want to be mobile. The fact of the matter is that most really good shots of fireworks will require a longer exposure than anyone can handhold. Your lens needs to be open for a few seconds (in general my fireworks shots tend to be in the 3-5 second range) and no one can hand hold that long!
- Set your point of focus for your lens to infinity. In general, fireworks are up far enough in the sky that setting it anywhere else will likely cause blurry fireworks. This is true regardless of whether you want to include surrounding areas or not.
- Set your aperture to at least f8.0 if not higher so you can get enough depth of field. (I generally use f16)
- Turn off image stabilization (or vibration reduction) if your lens is so equipped. IS (VR) attempts to counter hand shake. If your camera is on a tripod and there is no shake, the lens can tend to create shake where none exists. Some lenses are smart enough, but as a general rule, it's a good idea. An added side benefit for shooting fireworks is that this will also extend your batter life on your camera.
- Make sure any filters you use during day time are off. I tend to have a UV filter on my wide angle lenses at all times. I often use a circular polarizer for evening and morning sunrise/sunset imagery too. Take these off for shooting fireworks as there's no UV light at night (or polarized light to filter).
- I try to get most of my shots toward the beginning of a fireworks show. Toward the end, the smoke from prior displays is hanging in the air. This makes the "pristine shots" more difficult to capture that don't require a lot of clean-up.
- Finally, to make your shots different, make sure you include surrounding areas in your composition. While a nice crisp fireworks plumage is always nice, these have been done literally millions of times and become boring quickly. Consider adding the reflection of the fireworks from the water below (fireworks are often lit over water for safety reasons).
Sample shots from shooting fireworks:
Enjoy the holiday and happy shooting!