I give 10 tips that will help you photograph fireworks perfectly. The key: good preparation and the right settings.
Fireworks have fascinated me since I was a child. When I got an SLR camera, I started photographing fireworks right away. New Year’s Eve is a good opportunity for this, of course. But also real shows of professional pyrotechnicians are impressive. Also at weddings there are often good opportunities.
If you take photos at fireworks shows, check with the organizer beforehand whether this is allowed in this context. I have not had any problems in this regard. On the contrary, after the show I gave the organizer 5 pictures and got two tickets for the next year for free.
Wherever you want to photograph fireworks: Think about your own safety.
Here are 10 steps on how to best photograph fireworks:
1. choose the best point of view
For fireworks shows & weddings
Good preparation ensures good results. So it is with fireworks photography. Step 1 here is to find the best vantage point for photographing them later. First you have to find out where the fireworks will take place. I recommend visiting the location in the afternoon. Normally, the fireworks display is set up then. This is a good opportunity to see where the fireworks will be shot. At the same time you can talk to the pyrotechnician and ask him about the start time, the sequence and especially about the explosion height. So after that you know exactly at which position and height the effects will take place.
On New Year’s Eve
Of course, the same applies to photographing on New Year’s Eve. Usually there is always a lot of activity above the city center. With a little organization, you can shoot from a high balcony or even from the roof of a house. This has the advantage that you stand there much safer and have a better view of the fireworks.
With this knowledge, you can take your time to look at the surroundings to find an optimal viewpoint. It has proven to be an advantage to have a slightly elevated viewpoint and possibly include a prominent building in the image composition. With the elevated point of view, you exclude the possibility of spectators walking around in front of your camera. With the prominent building you create a reference point for the viewer of your pictures. This can be a landmark or, in the case of a wedding, the building of the celebration. The bride and groom will remember the fireworks vividly for a long time.
2. use a stable tripod
If you want to photograph fireworks, then exposure times of about 30 seconds are necessary. For such times, of course, you need a tripod. Mostly you have less wind in the evening than during the day. In any case, the tripod should be stable. I like to work with the Manfrotto Befree.
Manfrotto Befree at maximum height without extended center column.
Tip: Be there in time
Be sure to be ready 15 minutes before the fireworks start so that you have all your equipment set up and your image composition done. Setting up when the fireworks have already started often turns into stress and results in worse pictures.
3. which camera is necessary to photograph fireworks?
Canon EOS 700DWhich camera you use to photograph the fireworks is actually less important. You should only keep in mind that we are talking about long exposures: So the noise of the camera plays a role. In principle, any digital SLR or system camera can be used. So it doesn’t matter whether you use Canon, Nikon or Sony. Compact cameras that still deliver good image quality at an exposure time of 30 seconds are also conceivable. Overall, I would recommend a DSLR or system camera (like the Sony Alpha 6000) for shooting fireworks. I currently use a Canon EOS 77D.
4. choose a suitable focal length
Which lens is best for fireworks photography? You can’t make a blanket statement here. The right focal length is highly dependent on the fireworks themselves, the location, the viewpoint, and especially the composition of the image. You usually don’t know where you’re going to shoot from until you’ve talked to the fireworks artist and chosen the right position.
I usually carry a super wide angle like the Canon 10-22mm and the 18-55mm kit lens on my 77D. So I am very flexible with focal lengths between 10 and 55 mm. In my experience, a longer focal length is rarely worthwhile in fireworks photography if you want to photograph the whole fireworks and not individual parts. Of course, this depends on the point of view.
5. the right settings for the right exposure
Now that you have your camera and tripod set up, it’s time to choose the right settings. To keep noise as low as possible and thus contribute to good image quality, I recommend using ISO 100. Depending on your camera, the lowest setting for you may also be ISO 200.
I usually shoot fireworks in manual mode. I usually set the aperture to 8 and choose a time of 30 seconds. Between the shots you have to check the pictures for overexposure (turn on exposure warning for overexposed bright areas). Depending on the fireworks, it can happen that the effects are still slightly overexposed. If this is the case, I sometimes use f/11 to make sure the image is properly exposed.
If you want to expose longer than 30 seconds, you have to choose the Bulb mode on your camera.
Of course, I shoot in RAW format to get the best image quality and to be able to adjust my white balance specifically in post-processing.
Summary recommendation for settings to get the right exposure:
6. deactivate image stabilizer to avoid blurred images
If your lens has an image stabilizer and you are shooting from a tripod, then you need to disable the image stabilizer. Otherwise it can happen that during the 30 seconds exposure time the stabilizer intervenes (for whatever reason this happens). Then you would have blurred images. This tip is not only relevant for fireworks photography, but in general when shooting from a tripod with a lens with image stabilizer.
7. use remote shutter release to avoid blurry pictures
Canon RS60-E3 remote shutter releaseWhen you shoot from a tripod, you do so to prevent the image from blurring. However, the moment you press the shutter button on the camera, you may blur the image.
To eliminate this error, I use a remote shutter release. As far as I know, there are radio, infrared and cable remote releases on the market. All three perform the function. I use a cable remote release. The reason for this is that by chance at the moment of shooting the batteries of a radio or infrared trigger can be empty.
An alternative to the remote shutter release, besides the 30 second exposure, is to set your camera so that it doesn’t start shooting until two seconds after you press the shutter button.
8. focus correctly for sharp photos
A particular difficulty at night is focusing. Especially in almost total darkness, it’s actually impossible to find the right focus point. Some colleagues recommend turning the lens focus ring all the way to the infinity setting. My experience is that the actual infinity focus is often a few millimeters before that setting.
So what do I do? Fortunately, most fireworks take place in an environment where there is some residual light. These points of light can be used to set the camera’s autofocus on them. You can try out whether the „normal“ autofocus or the autofocus in Liveview mode finds these points. So ideal are lamps of the street lighting, the lighting of the wedding location or the illuminated sight in the vicinity. When the moon is full, you can also use the moon as a focus point. By the way, the moon can also be its own photo subject. After focusing, I deactivate the autofocus (just switch to manual focus) and move on to making my composition. Of course, you have to be careful not to accidentally change the focus again.
9. tips for image composition in fireworks photography
It’s not easy to give tips on image composition, because everyone has their own ideas about what should be in the picture. In general I would say: Less is more. Try to include only elements in the picture that should be part of it and maybe have a relation to your main subject (the fireworks).
As already described, you should already have a certain idea of what should be in the picture when choosing your point of view.
I often shoot fireworks in portrait format, because then you can see both the ground with the launches and the effects of the explosions. When doing this, you can also include some spectators at the bottom of the picture. This captures the mood of the show well.
Having a landmark in the background that takes up about a third of the frame can also work well.
Now I take several 30 second shots and then pick the best ones at the end.
10. what you should pay attention to in postprocessing
Editing fireworks images is basically simple. For editing I use Adobe Photoshop and the included Adobe Camera RAW module. Alternatively, Adobe Lightroom or the RAW development software that comes with the camera will suffice for editing. Photoshop and Lightroom are available in the Adobe Photo subscription.
The first thing to do is to open the RAW file. Before I make the adjustments, I activate the lens corrections to let the software calculate out possible lens errors.
Now you can set the right white balance. Often I try how the picture looks with the setting artificial light. This comes into question when there may still be street lighting or the lighting of the house from the wedding location in the picture. If you are lucky, there was a gray wall somewhere in the image. You can adjust the white balance with the eyedropper. If none of these pull, then I use the white balance slider to find the right setting by hand and with some trial and error.
As for the other sliders, the appropriate settings are unique to each image. Every now and then you’ll need to adjust the highlights down a bit so that the colors of the fireworks effects aren’t too bright. Beyond that, however, there are no generally applicable settings.
Depending on whether you were lucky with the timing, it can also lead to better results if you combine 2 or 3 pictures. This will add up the effects in the image.
Bonus tip: Bring a flashlight and spare batteries.
Since you’ll almost always be in the dark when photographing fireworks, you’ll obviously need to be well-versed in your camera’s functions and settings. In addition, it is very helpful to carry a flashlight. Long exposures consume a lot of battery, because with SLR cameras the mirror has to be kept up permanently. So you should not only have the battery fully charged, but also a spare battery with you. Batteries have a lower performance at low temperatures, which you should also keep in mind.
One tactic to prepare yourself even better and maybe tune in is to get some inspiration in advance. I find these galleries to be successful:
Also at the colleagues of DDPix there are some fancy pictures of fireworks in combination with sights besides some tips.
Don’t be discouraged if the pictures don’t turn out like the ones in the galleries. Practice makes perfect!
If you have any more helpful tips or just want to show off your results, write me in the comments.