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Top Tips for Fireworks Photography

How to photograph Bonfire Night


If you need any reminder that we are well and truly into winter – apart from the short, dark days – the arrival of fireworks in the stores is a sure sign. Bonfire night is a wonderfully photogenic event, presuming you can get away from your kids long enough to shoot the fireworks, that is. Read on some tips to ensure your firework photography goes with a bang, and is spectacular as the pyrotechnics lighting up the sky

1) Get your gear ready


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Ok so for good firework images you will need a tripod, cable release and a decent set of lenses. A tripod is needed as while you can get OK shots of fireworks handheld, you will get much better results if you mount your camera as it will enable you to use much slower shutter speeds/longer exposures.

This will give you the full effect of fireworks bursting in the sky while also keeping everything sharp – you will also be shooting at a narrower aperture. Every firework event is different but a good starting point is Manual mode, f/11 aperture and a shutter speed of between one to four seconds. This should keep the sky dark but also ensure the fireworks aren't a very bright, overexposed mess where you can't see any detail.

2) Focus manually


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Focussing can be tricky as your camera's autofocus is often not sure what to focus on. Try focussing on a building or object that's relatively near to where the fireworks will explode; you can focus manually if you are feeling confident, maybe checking you have it right with Live View magnification on the rear LCD, or focus on the building object in autofocus and then change to manual focus. You might need to experiment a bit with this so don't panic if you don't get it right first time.

3) Don't forget other elements


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A sharp well exposed firework shots is impressive, but it will look a bit generic if it's just there on its own. So try to shoot it going off against interesting local buildings or landmarks. Big Ben or a big castle are obviously perfect, but it can be hard getting close enough, so any distinctive building will do. Check out firework images on Google Images for inspiration. Give the fireworks plenty of room in the frame too, rather than cropping right in.

4) Don't forget people


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Fireworks are one thing but make sure you get plenty of shots of kids enjoying the fun with their parents. Faces lit up by bonfires look great; as the light won't be great, you may need to use a fast, wide aperture lens and bump up the ISO. Anything under ISO 3200 should be ok if you have a powerful SLR, but be more conservative with a less well endowed camera. Obviously the closer people are to the fire the better the light, but don't ignore health and safety in your desire for a perfect portrait!

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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