Photographing Fireworks this 4th of July


It’s that time of year again to practice your fireworks photography. I wrote a post last year with tips; you can read “how to photograph fireworks” here. I won’t rehash the topic, but I did want to add a few points.

First, if you have a point-and-shoot, you should have a “fireworks” setting. I can’t really vouch for it and I still wouldn’t trust it hand-held; but it’s worth a shot.

Secondly, I said that your lens should “go to infinity” on its own. If you don’t know what that means and you have your lens on auto focus, your lens may try to hunt for focus in low light conditions. If it can’t find an area of contrast, it won’t be able to lock focus. Bright fireworks against a dark sky should do the trick, but if your focusing distance is off, your results may not be as sharp as it could be. So here’s what you do. Look at your lens and you should see a focus window:

Lens focus window

The window tells you how much of your image will be in focus in meters and in feet. In the image above, for example, you can see the lens is set to infinity. That means anything from the lens to infinity will be in focus. If it had been at 3-meters; only anything up to 10-feet would be in focus. So the best bet is to set your lens to manual focus and set the focusing distance to infinity. Just don’t forget to switch it back to auto focus before your next shoot.

One last tip: Try to give your fireworks images some context. The shot at the top of this post and last year’s just show fireworks in the night sky. This year, I am going to try to show the fireworks in relation to the surroundings. If you can find some building or landmark to put in the foreground or bottom part of your image, it will help convey more information.

Good luck and Happy 4th of July!

[UPDATE: I just shot some fireworks this evening and my shutter speed was between 15-to-30 seconds. I think this is because I zoomed out to show some context. In the past I zoomed in on the fireworks like the image above so it didn’t matter if the sky goes black. As you can see in the image below, it was still twilight and I didn’t want the sky to go black.]

Baldwin Park Fireworks


How to Photograph Fireworks


[NOTE: This post is from 2011. To read the updated post from 2012 click here]

With the 4th of July just around the corner, I thought I’d share some tips on how to shoot fireworks.

This is the time to shoot in manual mode. Most people assume that because they’re shooting at night they’ll need a high ISO, flash and a wide aperture. The opposite is true; you’re not exposing for the night sky, you’re exposing for very bright sources of light.

To begin, set your ISO to 100. The last thing you want is digital noise in the dark sky.

Next, set your aperture to a narrow setting; something between f/8 and f/16 to get a wide depth of field.

Your shutter speed will vary but something around 3-to-4 seconds is a safe bet. Or you can use “bulb” mode where the shutter remains open for as long as you hold the shutter button down. You’ll have to play with the timing. Do you fire the shutter when the rocket fires? Or maybe when it’s half-way up the sky? Or maybe as it explodes and another rocket is coming up. Experiment and see what you get.

With such long exposures a tripod is necessary and if you have one, a shutter release cable is very helpful.

Your lens should go to infinity on its own, but if you find your lens is having trouble finding a focus area, switch it to manual focus and evaluate the image on your LCD by zooming in tight. Do not rely on the image on that 3-inch screen to tell you if it’s in focus. At roughly 3-inches square your image may look sharp until you open it up on your 15 or 27 inch monitor.

If your LCD blinks at you it means those areas are over exposed. Don’t freak out. Ask yourself if it’s too overexposed. Remember, fireworks are very bright so you’d expect to get some overexposure. There’s not much detail in there anyway (imagine shooting a light bulb). Just look at the areas that are blinking and ask yourself if it’s acceptable. Or check your histogram. If the peaks are crowding too far to the right side, you’re blowing out highlights. Increase your shutter speed to get them back.

Typically this is my set-up: f/11, ISO 100, 4 seconds. That’s what I’ll start with. The only thing I’ll vary is the shutter speed.

There will be some trial and error as you find your settings. But don’t get so caught up in your camera that you forget to enjoy the show. So try to have some fun!