Firework photography

Capturing fireworks requires patience and preparation.

Odds are good that if you’re shooting off fireworks, it’s pretty dark out. Fireworks are no good in the light, after all! An extended shutter speed will keep the shutter open for a long time (30 seconds or more). This allows more light to enter the lens and exposure the sensor/film more gradually. The thing is, fireworks are pretty bright. They’ll show up, even if they foreground isn’t fully exposed.

Multicolored and white fireworks exploded
This is a good example of why infinity focus is necessary. While the streams of light are beautiful with that subtle blur, they look much better when they’re crisp.

Settings

  • Shutter Speed: Bulb or longest exposure possible
  • Aperture: Narrow (<F22)
  • Focus: Infinity
  • Lens/Zoom: Wide Angle

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Camera (duh)
  • Wide Angle lens (15mm-35mm)
  • Tripod (essential!)
  • Remote Shutter release
  • A cozy chair

“The first three things make sense, but what’s with the last one?” You’re going to be waiting around for the fireworks, so you might as well be comfortable while you sit.

1. Figure out which direction the fireworks are likely to be shot and aim your camera that way.

After the first firework you may need to adjust your perspective.

The key is just rely on good framing, a wide angle lens, patience, and above all, a bit of luck to deliver the goods.

2. Set your camera to “bulb” shutter speed setting, or the longest shutter speed possible.

The bulb setting allows you to leave the shutter open for an indefinite period of time.

the end of a firework
If you’re quick, you might catch the end of a burst, but it’s unlikely to be anything impressive.

If you don’t keep the shutter open, you risk missing an otherwise beautiful shot.

3. Just keep shooting! As long as the shutter is open, you stand a pretty good chance of capturing a firework.

Periodically check your images. Are any adjustments needed?

4. Consider changing your perspective. Architecture and landscape features can make excellent framing devices.

When your finished, hopefully you ended up with something awesome!

Fireworks best
Eventually, you’ll get something like this! This shot is most successful because of timing. The fact that three bursts occurred during the same shot makes it difficult, but oh so wonderful.

Other Applications

Try creating a time-lapse of a busy intersection, pointed at the stars for several hours, or pointed at the general direction of lightning (safely, of course!).

Downtown City Lights

Are you able to access the roof of a parking garage? See if your camera can get a cool view. Scope around town for a cool, unobtrusive, angle. You probably won’t be bothering anyone and you might get a really cool shot.

Starburst effect: f22 or smaller

The size of the aperture matters a lot when using long exposures. The light will leak through tiny cracks in the blades of the aperture creating luscious rays. This can be quite beautiful, however. You may end up with a sunburst effect on any pin-point of light. (City lights, perhaps? Oh, how dazzling!)

The Stars

This one’s a bit more challenging, and even risky. Make sure to take precautions to keep the tripod mounted firmly in the earth. You wouldn’t want a wind gust ruining your equipment, of course.

Set up the camera facing the sky. Leave it on bulb exposure on a small aperture. Make sure to click the frame before sunrise. That much light could ruin it. This would be a good photo project for the camping type.

Lightning

When I was young and stupid, I did this the wrong way. Safety is of the utmost importance with this. If you’re positive you’re in a spot that has a safe view of the general area of lightning, the technique is nearly identical to he fireworks. Instead of a man-made form of light in the sky, you’re capturing nature’s might. Truly remarkable when you get lucky.