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Meandering thoughts, Photography tips and gear

How To Photograph Fireworks

Fireworks have been used for centuries to mark special occasions and festivities such as Canada Day, Fourth of July, Olympic ceremonies and to welcome in the New Year.  Take the guesswork out of photographing fireworks – follow these simple pointers for how to photograph fireworks.

fireworks in Ottawa

When light becomes the subject, consider going fully manual.  For best results, you will need to consider the fundamentals of photography – aperture, shutter speed and ISO, coupled with compositional elements of creating that perfect shot to capture an evening of pyrotechnic excitement.  Focus should also be turned to manual – most cameras will have a difficult time on autofocus in the dark, especially when the shot starts just before the subject explodes on the scene.

The Basics

Aperture – the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.  While counter-intuitive in photography, the smaller the aperture, the larger the opening that allows the light to hit the camera’s sensor.  This is measured in f-stops.  While a smaller aperture makes for a fabulous depth of field tool, for photographing fireworks, aim for somewhere in the range of f5.6 – f16.  You do not need a large opening or fast lens as the explosive nature of fireworks will provide more than enough light to capture the effect.

Shutter Speed – the amount of time the shutter remains open, allowing the light to hit the camera’s sensor.  While generally measured in fractions of a second for daytime photography, a few seconds is best to capture the magic of the fireworks.  Be careful not to leave the shutter open too long and over expose the shot.  Take a few practice shots to find the right balance between shutter speed and aperture.

ISO – a measure of sensitivity to light or the sensitivity of the sensor.  Use a low ISO when shooting fireworks for better photography clarity.

Bulb – for maximum control on how long the shutter will remain open, bulb mode is a useful tool for photographing fireworks.  I have yet to use this method, however Jim Harmer at Improve Photography sheds some light on use of bulb mode.

Canada Day fireworks

Before the show

What do you want to achieve?  Are you looking to capture a landmark with the fireworks exploding overhead?  Perhaps you are capturing the cityscape in the background.  Know where you are going to shoot from.  Get there early to scope out your shot.  You will want to be far enough away to capture the full view, but be certain that nothing will be obstructing your view.  My first attempt at photographing fireworks was New Years in Prague.  We went out in the afternoon to check out where the media were setting up – they had a space barricaded off which represented the perfect vantage point for fireworks over the Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the distance.  (Photo credit: http://www.www.today-malaysia.com/new-years-eve-celebrations-around-the-world-photos/385 – Fyle/Fotolia)

Tripods are an invaluable tool in photography, and really are a must for long exposure times.  To avoid user induced camera shake, a remote shutter release is also beneficial.  I have not yet made the move to a remote release setup, however I have lost a few photos to shake as I take the photo.  (This is the next piece of equipment on my camera wish list!)

Canada Day fireworks

The beauty of digital photography – take a number of practice shots to make sure you are getting your desired effect.  You can easily check your photo and make the desired changes.  Over exposed – adjust your shutter speed accordingly.  Want to include more of the city scape – zoom out to include surrounding viewpoints.

Useful links:

I have learned so much about photographic techniques through DPS – Digital Photography School.  Well worth it to spend some time here for techniques and tips that extend beyond the How to Photography Fireworks Displays page.

For tips on layering, check out Geoff Lawrence’s post on Photographing Fireworks – a technique I have yet to try, but the outcomes are beautiful.

Travel photography at night is a great way to showcase amazing architecture and capture a different look of the places you are visiting.  Be sure to get out and practice before you go – you can learn a lot just by getting out there and working with your camera.

About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!


33 thoughts on “How To Photograph Fireworks

  1. Great Tips – Happy Tuesday:)

    Posted by cravesadventure | July 3, 2012, 11:22 am
  2. Great,GREAT tips,and just in timefor Independance Day here tomorrow,thanks,my friend! 😀

    The DC

    Posted by disabledcyclist | July 3, 2012, 11:30 am
  3. This is perfectperfect. I’ve been looking for something like this the past couple days! Thank you 🙂

    Posted by writingisl0ve | July 3, 2012, 11:37 am
    • Oh – I am so glad! I remember when I first decided to photography the fireworks in Prague – there was no chance to practice before I went. They turned out ok – but I am happier with the ones taken at Parliament Hill…would be amazing to go back and try to capture the Sydney fireworks – that has got to be the best fireworks show I have ever seen!

      Posted by Anita Mac | July 3, 2012, 2:43 pm
  4. Beautiful photos and great tips. If you ever get a chance, the Celebration of Light in Vancouver (http://hondacelebrationoflight.com/) is an amazing event with plenty of opportunity to practice!

    Posted by EasyRez.com (@EasyRez) | July 3, 2012, 4:51 pm
  5. I was going to do some homework tonight in preparation for tomorrow night but why research when you summarized all in one post with links 🙂 Thanks Anita

    Posted by 2 Rivers Photos | July 3, 2012, 7:10 pm
  6. Thanks for the tips! Now I need to find fireworks to photograph. -Helen

    Posted by travelwithlaughter | July 3, 2012, 9:10 pm
  7. I aspire to that awesomeness, even if I don’t ever make it!

    Posted by Hermionejh | July 3, 2012, 10:45 pm
  8. I’m lucky because SeaWorld has fireworks every night from Memorial Day to Labor Day. My best settings for fireworks are tripod, extended exposure of 7 seconds, ISO 100, F/11, and then a little work in Lightroom, Photoshop, and/or PaintShop Pro to get rid of street lights, people, extraneous light flares, smoke glare.

    Posted by Russel Ray Photos | July 5, 2012, 10:16 pm
    • You are lucky! I love watching fireworks, feeling the explosions ricochet off the buildings and the colours dancing in the sky! Have not used lightroom or photoshop. Will have to come check out your shots.

      Posted by Anita Mac | July 5, 2012, 11:17 pm
  9. Thanks for liking my last post ! Your blog is lovely!

    Posted by madamecroquette | July 6, 2012, 9:32 pm
  10. No fireworks for me this year. they’re not allowed in Sequoia National Park. Maybe I’ll get a chance to take pics of fireworks next year.

    Posted by thecaptainnemo | July 8, 2012, 11:27 pm
    • Too bad about no fireworks, but I am sure the beauty of Sequoia National Park more than makes up for it! Perhaps there are some pearls in the photographing fireworks tips to take some amazing night photos of the National Park all lit up by moonlight!

      Posted by Anita Mac | July 9, 2012, 5:01 pm
  11. Excellent post and great photographs!

    Posted by Jane Lurie | July 11, 2012, 10:56 am
    • Thanks Jane. I love watching the fireworks – brings back so many childhood memories. So thrilled that I can capture them on camera now. The addition of the tripod made all the difference!

      Posted by Anita Mac | July 11, 2012, 9:04 pm
      • Me, too. The ones over the bay in San Francisco were gorgeous this year, and the fog was kind to us. Yes, the tripod is our friend!

        Posted by Jane Lurie | July 11, 2012, 9:07 pm
      • I bet they are – what kind of backdrop to you have? Does the Golden Gate Bridge feature? That would be stunning.

        Posted by Anita Mac | July 11, 2012, 9:19 pm
  12. Hi Anita, nice article…I am newbie on photography website. Would like to seek your permission to post/link your article to my website…Waiting for your approval…Thanks

    Posted by Ken | July 22, 2012, 9:50 pm
  13. Ahh nice post! 🙂 very helpful!

    Posted by LifeOfBun | July 24, 2012, 6:37 pm
  14. the pictures are amazing

    Posted by Waste removal Sydney | October 25, 2012, 2:27 am


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