How to Take Awesome Photos of Fireworks
Each year, on the Fourth of July we celebrate Independence Day. It’s a day where Americans from all walks of life gather together to enjoy massive fireworks displays as our way of celebrating our independence from Dave Clayton and Glyn Dewis, shown above posing with some random American male model).
We celebrate by surrounding ourselves with hot dogs, hamburgers, and mountains of potato chips before settling into a lawn chair with an ice cold beer to watch a glorious fireworks display using fireworks made in China. By the way — they’re “chips.” Not fries. Just sayin’ ;-)
Another great American tradition is the “Sharing of how to take awesome fireworks tutorial” that I do each year here on the blog, and since we’re just a few days away from the fireworks displays, we’d better start ramping up for it now. Here we go:
Here’s what you need from a Gear standpoint:
- Tripod: For the best results, 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.
- Cable Release: 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.
- Zoom Lens: Use a zoom lens (ideally a 200mm or more) if you want to get in tight and capture just the fireworks themselves. If you want fireworks and the ground (like fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World, or at the beach, or a city skyline, etc.), then use a wider lens, like the 28mm lens I used in the shot above (taken with my brother’s very old Canon Rebel and an 18-200mm zoom).
I recommend shooting in full Manual mode because you just set two these settings and you’re good to go:
- Set the Shutter Speed to 4 seconds
- 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.
That’s the basics.
If you want to take things up a notch (and go all ‘pro’ on me), you could also add these four things:
1. Set your focus to infinity (This isn’t critical, but if your lens can do it, why not). The fireworks are so bright you can use just regular ol’ autofocus for the most part, but if you have a lens that has a distance scale window on the top of your lens barrel; first turn off your auto focus (right on the lens – switch it to off), then rotate the focus ring on your lens until you see the Infinity symbol [it looks like the number 8 lying on its side], then turn it back just a smidge, so you’re almost right on the infinity symbol. Again, you don’t have to do this, but it might make things a bit easier.
2. A couple of years ago @SuzanMcEvoy (one of my followers over on my Twitter page) recommended also switching your White Balance to Tungsten and it works really well (Thanks Susan for the tip).
3. Lightroom (and Photoshop’s Camera Raw) Dehaze feature works wonders on the extraneous smoke in the background, so make sure you give it a try. It’s like it was made for fireworks shots.
4. This one probably goes without saying, but you’re on a tripod so use your lowest ISO setting for the cleanest shots.
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, Nikon, and Sony DSLRs have Bulb mode). The rest is timing because now you’ve got the exposure and sharpness covered and you have a hand free to hold the adult beverage of your choice.
Hope you all have a safe, happy 4th of July as we celebrate our nation’s physical distance, in miles and magnitude, from Glyn and Dave which makes it truly a day worth celebrating. ;-)