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How to Take Breathtaking Firework Photographs in 10 Easy Steps

If there's a grand occasion coming up, you can almost guarantee that it'll be marked by fireworks. This ten step guide will help you to capture some of those breathtaking bursts!

droopy red fireworks in the night sky
Fireworks from Envato Elements

1. Gather Your Equipment

Besides your camera, the most useful piece of equipment to take when photographing fireworks is a tripod. Without a tripod, it's difficult to take sharp shots at the long shutter speeds needed to photograph fireworks.

If possible, use a cable release to avoid any vibration and pressure on the camera. Something else that you might find useful is a torch or flashlight; otherwise you'll end up fumbling around in the dark trying to change the settings on your camera!

2. Get a Good View

A clear, unobstructed view may well make the difference between a generic firework shot and capturing something dramatic and exciting. Look for high vantage points: being on top of a roof or hill will likely give you a nice viewpoint. If possible, have a look around the site at daytime and work out where might be best to stand. Make sure there aren't any trees, buildings or cables in shot.

Alternatively, look to include certain features. Are there are particular landmarks, such as famous buildings or structures, that would help in framing or enhancing your shot? Remember that it is likely that any features in your shot will be silhouetted, and detail will not be visible.

Be sure to take into account any water mass which will reflect the activity in the sky (which can produce beautiful dramatic results). Make sure there's plenty of water between you and the launch point and that you can fit in both the water and the sky!

Fireworks in the night sky launched from a pier in the water across the beach
Fireworks by the Sea by fotographiche/Envato Elements.

3. Mind the Breeze

There is one primary aspect of fireworks that will really hinder your chances of getting a good shot: the smoke. All fireworks produce smoke, and depending on the weather conditions there may be huge plumes of thick fog-like smoke wafting around. Do your best to make sure you stand up-wind from the launch point, meaning that any smoke produced will not be between you and the firework bursts!

4. Get Set

Settings for firework shots needn't be complicated, there are just a few basic things to know to get the best out of the camera. Firstly, you won't need to use a flash, it would merely highlight anything in the foreground of you scene and will reduce the focus on the burst.

Although you are shooting in the dark, keep the ISO low. This will keep the image quality high, but forces you to use longer shutter speeds. Don't worry, you are photographing bursts of light so you don't actually need the light sensitivity too high.

Set the aperture to around f/8 to f/16, or whatever the sharpest aperture is for your lens. If you're camera doesn't allow that, try selecting the fireworks preset on your camera.

5. Experiment to Find Shutter Speed

The key to successful firework photography is getting the shutter speed right. You need to capture the light, the trails and the burst. Although your eyes will see everything happen very quickly, most cameras will struggle to take it all in amongst the darkness if the shutter speed is less than a second. So you'll need to set the shutter speed at between one and fifteen seconds. The correct speed depends largely on your actual conditions: you'll need to experiment quickly to figure out the correct settings.

Freehand Timing

Another option on many cameras is the Bulb (B) setting, with which you can hold open the shutter for as long as you need. Press down when the firework bursts, and off when it starts to fade. This can actually work well.

6. Make Your Composition

Composition is all-important when shooting fireworks. I mentioned earlier the option of including landmarks but, to start with, it's best to focus on making sure you've got the firework bursts in shot. A wide-angled lens (20-28mm) is probably best.

Think about where the launch point is. Where will the fireworks be in the sky? The heights of bursts will vary, but you don't want to get caught out having to jump around the sky trying to predict where they're going to burst.

4th of July fireworks in Boston
4th of July Fireworks in Boston by edan3/Envato Elements

7. Focus

I recommend manual focus for fireworks photography. Set the lens to infinity, or at the hyperfocal point to ensure maximum depth of field for your landscape.

If you don't have a manual setting, then a Landscape setting is your best bet. Use the first burst to focus the lens and then adjust accordingly.

8. "Burst Mode"

You also have the option of taking single bursts or multiple firework bursts within a single frame. A single frame requires you to open the shutter for the duration of that one burst. A multiple burst shot requires you to have the shutter open for the duration of many bursts, which is much easier with bulb mode (if you have that on your camera).

A trick that many photographers use when shooting multiple bursts in one frame is to use a piece of thick black card to cover the lens between bursts. This reduces the amount of unwanted light that enters the lens between the desired bursts.

9. Save the Some Room for Dessert

It is vital to remember that the best fireworks always come at the end of the display, so it is important that you have enough memory on your cards to last through the whole display. It can be difficult to judge when the end of the display is, so keep on shooting. You can always throw away dud shots, but you'll be very annoyed if you miss the big finale!

10. Get Creative!

Firework photography isn't the simplest of tasks, but can be extremely rewarding when done well. The old adage "practice makes perfect" is definitely true here: the more you do it, the more you'll understand the settings required and how to take dramatic shots. Once you've mastered the basics, you can think about experimenting with longer exposures and including structures, people, reflections and landscapes to create some stunning firework shots of your own.

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