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Mark Allen, one of my blog readers, posted this comment yesterday:

“I’ve used your books over the years in a number of projects. One thing I’ve always wanted to learn to do was take some good photos of fireworks. I used your method in The Digital Photography Book last night and got some great ones. Wow! With the right technique, it was easy!”

So, I thought with the Fourth of July coming up this week, I’d do a quick post on how to shoot Fireworks (well, how to photograph fireworks, anyway). So today I’m posting the technique, directly from page 175 in my book. Thanks to Mark for the comment (saying nice things like that is a surefire way to get my attention, by the way), and for inspiring this post today. Here we go:

This is another one that throws a lot of people (one of my best friends, who didn’t get a single crisp fireworks shot on the Fourth of July, made me including this tip just for him, and the thousands of other digital shooter that share his pain).

For starters, you’ll need to shoot fireworks with your camera on a tripod, because you’re going to need a slow enough shutter speed to capture the falling light trails, which is what you’re really after.

Also, this is where using a cable release really pays off, because you’ll need to see the rocket’s trajectory to know when to push the shutter button—if you’re looking in the viewfinder instead, it will be more of a hit or miss proposition.

Next, use a zoom lens (ideally a 200mm or more) so you can get in tight and capture just the fireworks themselves. If you want fireworks and the background (like fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World), then use a wider lens.

Now, I recommend shooting in full Manual mode, because you just set two settings and you’re good to go:

  1. Set the Shutter Speed to 4 seconds
  2. Set the Aperture to f/11. Fire a test shot and look at the LCD monitor on the back of your camera to see if you like the results. If it overexposes, lower the shutter speed to 3 seconds, then take another shot and check the results again.

TIP: If your camera has “Bulb” mode (where the shutter stays open as long as you hold down the shutter release button down), this works great–hold the shutter button down when the rocket bursts, then release when the light trails start to fade. (By the way; most Canon and Nikon digital SLRs have bulb mode). The rest is timing—because now you’ve got the exposure and sharpness covered.

There you have it—-hope you all get some great shots! :-)