• Jan Hunter

How to Photograph Fireworks

How can I photograph fireworks? It’s a question we're often asked  on our photography courses or via email around Bonfire Night and the New Year.

Image: Iain Reynolds (Going Digital North-East)

Firework displays are usually a very spectacular occasion filled with light and colour that when captured correctly can produce some stunning photographs. So here are a few tips that will hopefully help you.

Use a Tripod & Remote Release

It’s essential you secure your camera so it doesn’t move and you avoid camera shake. When photographing fireworks you will be using a long shutter speed which will capture the movement of the fireworks but it will also capture any movement of the camera. You want crisp quality shots at the lowest ISO number you can get (ideally ISO 100) so a secure tripod is an essential piece of kit.

To help with the keeping your camera still is to use a remote release. These can be purchased from most photography retailers and you have two kinds one with a wire and the wireless kind. You can use the self-timer on the camera but I wouldn’t recommend it if you want consistent results.

Image: Karen Gourlay

Composing your shot

One of the most difficult parts of photographing fireworks is working out where to stand and where to aim your camera. Getting to the location early will help you to get a good, unobstructed position; the last thing you want is to have people’s heads in your shots. Take into consideration where the fireworks are being set up and what parts of the sky they are likely to be shot into; this will help deciding what focal lengths you might want to use and choose appropriate lenses for the show.

Try both portrait and landscape compositions are they can both result in stunning shots. Keep looking at the segment of the sky where the fireworks are exploding this can help you to anticipate the right time for a shot as you’ll see the light trails of unexploded rockets shooting into the sky.

Lenses, Focal Length and Aperture

I would recommend shooting at a fixed focal length at first to ensure you get your focus correct and consistent. You may want to switch to manual focus as it can be hard using auto focus in low light, it may take a couple of goes to get it spot on but try turning your focus to infinity to start with and work it from there. The fireworks are not always going to explode in exactly the same place so if you use infinity and an aperture between F8 & F16 then you have a good chance of getting nice sharp shots. But once you start getting the hang of it try different focal lengths wide angle and zooming in if you have enough lens; if not you can always shoot wide and crop afterwards.

Shutter Speed

For the best results I would always recommend shooting in ‘Bulb’ mode using a remote shutter release; this will allow you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter button. Bulb mode can usually be found in two ways; one can be on your dial where you will have the letter ‘B’ along with your manual mode, shutter priority and aperture priority modes. If the B is not there on your dial then try changing your camera to manual mode and changing the shutter speed until you see the word ‘Bulb’. If you use this mode you can hit the shutter button and hold it down as the firework explodes, once the explosion has stopped release the shutter button and your shot will be captured. Remember to not keep the shutter open for too long because it’s drinking in light all the time and your shot can easily be over exposed; a few seconds will be fine. But once you have some great shots in the bag experiment a little with your shutter speed.

A neat trick you may want to try is use the technique explained above, get some black board and start the exposure when the fireworks start with the piece of board in front of the lens. Every time a firework explodes move the board out of the way and you will get multiple firework explosions in one exposure.

You could try writing your name too!

Digital is Free!

Take as many shots as you possibly can and experiment with different shutter speeds and keep checking your focus. It’s essential you keep checking your images on the back of your camera to make sure your shots are everything you hoped they would be. Check the exposure, zoom right in to make sure your shots are in focus; the moment has gone once you check them on your PC or Mac and you realise they are all out of focus!

You can learn many of the techniques mentioned in this article on our Explore Your Camera Part 2 workshop.

Image: Andy Street

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