How to Photograph Fireworks
With long winter nights well and truly on us, it's a great time to photograph fireworks, particularly if you live in the UK on Bonfire Night or indeed Thanksgiving in the US.
While photographing fireworks may seem fairly straightforward – these things are hard to miss, right? – getting professional-looking firework shots is much more of a challenge. If you want more than simple snapshots of pyrotechnics, read on for some essential tips...
1) Get set up
In order to understand how to photograph fireworks, you need to first of all, get prepared. You will need warm clothes, obviously, but don't overdress so much that you are sweating – check the weather forecast.
A head torch will come in very useful, as you will have enough gear to worry about, without fumbling around for torches. Then you will need a tripod, cable release and a fully charged battery. Do it the day before.
2) Focus manually
Photographing fireworks is one time where you will need to use manual focus on your camera. Autofocus will really struggle to find a consistent point to focus on in such changing light conditions (not to mention the prevailing darkness) so switch to manual focus.
Use focus peaking if your camera supports it to help you achieve focus, or switch to Live View so you can zoom on to check the focus on key areas. Try to focus on a building or other background object rather than the actual fireworks.
3) Set manual exposure mode
I also recommend that you select Manual exposure mode on your camera, so you can enter the aperture and shutter speed settings yourself and know they won't change. Be prepared to experiment, but start with an aperture of around f/11, a shutter speed of 1 second and an ISO of 200.
You may need to slow the shutter speed down further, say to 4 seconds, and you want to keep the ISO down to minimise noise. Turning on long exposure noise reduction on your camera is a good idea. Shoot in raw so you can bring out maximum detail and adjust white balance if necessary.
4) Stay stable
Set up your tripod and attach a cable release and get shooting. Check the histogram/rear LCD to ensure that the sky is dark enough and the fireworks aren't overexposing. Get a nice clean composition too, so avoid tree branches or other people's heads getting in the frame.
Including some attractive nearby buildings, such as a church, can add context – lots of fireworks going off against a night sky can look pretty generic after a while. If you get bored, try adding some creative effects – you can deliberately slow down the shutter speed, try zoom burst (rapidly moving your zoom lens in and out as you shoot at a slow shutter speed, again of 1-4 seconds) and so on
5) Don't forget other people
Fireworks are fun but they are only one aspect of the celebrations. Why not get some nice portraits of your kids against the glow of the bonfire, or other people enjoying the fireworks going off. If the fire is giving off enough light, you can get away with a high ISO and a wide lens aperture, rather than resorting to flash. Indeed, crudely used flash will kill all sense of atmosphere, so only use it as a last resort.
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