Fireworks – Think Differently

Summer brings many opportunities to photograph firework displays.  Here are some tips to help you capture the event plus add some artistic flare.


  1. Scout your locations BEFORE it gets dark.  You’ll want to include an interesting foreground element.
  2. Use a tripod. Most of the photos will have a shutter speed exceeding 1 second, so you’ll want to make sure that your camera is on a stable tripod
  3. Turn OFF Vibration Reduction, Image Stabilization (all other names for it).
  4. Use a cable shutter release.  Try to minimize the vibration of your camera by not touching it.  Using the timer will not work in this situation.
  5. Quality set to RAW
  6. Look for composition.  Adjust your frame so that you include foreground elements to give the fireworks a sense of scale.
  7. Set the focus point.  Focusing in the dark is near impossible.  Try to find an element that you can focus on (street light, building, etc.) that is approximately the same distance from you to the firework display.  Once you have established your focus point, turn your lens to manual focus to lock the focus.  If there is nothing to focus on prior to the fireworks, turn the focus ring to infinity and then back it off slightly.  Once you begin photographing, take a look to make sure you achieve the sharpest focus.
  8. Photograph in Manual Mode
  9. Set the aperture to between f/8 and f/11.  Not only will this give you a greater Depth of Field but also produce the sharpest images.
  10. Set the shutter speed to between 1” – 3”.  The slower shutter speeds will allow you to capture the light trails of the firework as it explodes and fades.
  11. Set the ISO. Begin at ISO 100, if exposure is too dark, increase ISO to get a correct exposure.  Check your histogram, you do not want to over-expose the fireworks, as it will be hard to recover the color and detail.
ISO 100, f/11, 9 Seconds
ISO 200, f/11, 2 Seconds
ISO 64, f/8, 3 Seconds


ZOOMING: If you have a zoom lens, zoom out to the widest focal length.  Set the shutter speed to 2”-3”.  When the firework explodes, click your shutter and smoothly zoom in with your lens as the firework is being exposed.  Try not to shake the camera as you adjust the zoom.  Try the reverse as well…start at the longest focal length of your lens and zoom out to the widest.  Check and share your results.

ISO 64, f/8, 3 Seconds

OUT OF FOCUS: No matter the lens…manually adjust the lens focus ring to the nearest focusing distance and expose the fireworks as described above.  The fireworks will turn in to shapes.  Change the aperture, to change the shapes of the fireworks.  Check and share your results.

ISO 64, f/8, 3 Seconds
ISO 64, f/8, 3 seconds

Post in Honor of my Father-in-law, who loved watching fireworks with his granddaughter, Brianna. We miss you Doug!

Grandpa & Brianna

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