Hi Gang: Each year for Independence Day (observed today, the Fourth of July, here in the US as a way for all Americans to celebrate our independence from Dave Clayton), I share a quick post on how to photograph Fireworks (a traditional part of the 4th of July celebration). I'm posting the technique that I included on page 175 of my book, "The Digital Photography Book, Part 1." 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 shooters 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 buttonâ”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 timingâ”because now you've got the exposure and sharpness covered.

There you have itâ”-hope you all get some great shots tonight; remember to stay safe around fireworks of any kind, and we'll see you back here in one piece tomorrow. :)

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About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.

13 Comments

  1. 100 ISO correct?

  2. I shot this one at 0.5 sec f2 iso 500
    I only had my knee’s for tripod cause i dont have one yet :P i have made many shots but i had the best quality with these settings!

    i had my camera on timer mode its helped also! edited with photoshop cs6
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdgpix/9190734816/

  3. I’d like to know the ISO as well. Another blog I read suggested 4s at f/8 and ISO 250.

  4. I’ve had great success at ISO 100 & 200, in order to bounce the shutter speed around to get more ambient light for the scene.

    I’ve used Tungsten WB with wonderful success :)

    Thanks Scott!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. got the book, used the tip.

  7. I go with the native ISO for my camera, on mine it is 200. Above that the camera is boosting the signal, below it is cutting it — RTM).

    I’d rather change time or aperture. Depending on the exact darkness when they start and whether I’m shooting east or west, I’ll need f8 or even f11 at 3 seconds. As the show progresses, that might back off as far as f4 or see time increase by a second.

    It is very easy to composite images in PS. Also, the levels black point slider will help even out black and dark grey night sky. I posted an image to my G+ stream from last year (our town is doing them tonight, Saturday night).

  8. Do you use manual focus and focus at infinity?
    Otherwise I would think that the lens would be trying to focus against a changing scene.
    I have fireworks coming up this weekend if I am in town (Alexandria, VA)

  9. I ended up doing f11 at 4 seconds at 100 iso. Here’s the best photo I got from the illegal neighborhood fireworks I was shooting (ever want to slow traffic down in a neighborhood? sit in a driveway with your camera on a tripod): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhoughton/9236200032/

  10. Hi all,

    here my firework pict: ISO 400, 1.6 seconds @ f7.1.

    This is my preferred setting for this kind of picture since I believe that 4 seconds elapsed is definitely too much time. (my other photos at http://500px.com/donzphoto)

    cheers!

    Davide

    PS: of course in Italy we don’t have4th of July celebration, this photo was taken during another event :)

  11. Vlr%bifnbii Sncentceni Hunbulni Qez-orZ Rteadeesro Eazuvcefj Cevxahri Xuzacegeni Fufnhuaeni Uxuobeahuai Beahurucvni Pewcenlenlei Sujsotujqo Rewrew Ruoewdwi Xubeageyi~
    Cenludwki Hikuoteakun Rur Kun Kun Kuni Rzni Pncenui Sntndii Lisgea Xgnqeyi Livhujdii ROAKbiby~

  12. Great post Scott, In the past I’ve found using f16 – f22 rids of the smoke haze, but makes it harder to expose for the foreground.

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