How to Shoot Fireworks
Fireworks have a cross-cultural appeal for celebrations throughout the world. In the US, July 4th is accentuated with this truly visual and aural delight. As you travel the globe you’ll find celebrations for Guy Fawkes Night, Chinese New Year, Grita de Dolores, the Festival of Lights and many more. Photographs of these remarkable displays help tell a cultural story and are easy to do with a little planning.
The key to successfully capturing fireworks images with rich colors is to really understand precisely what it is your’e shooting and setting your exposure accordingly. Fireworks are made up of burning embers that are flying through the air. The individual embers can be quite colorful and very bright. For many, their first attempt at photographing fireworks results in over exposed white trails.
After a firework explodes, the embers move rapidly through the air. While the shutter is open, a light trail is being recorded giving the display its shape. The shutter speed controls how far these embers seem to travel across the sky. We’re assuming that the display is at night and we don’t have to worry about blending some ambient exposure too.
I’d recommend that you set the camera on Bulb exposure and use a remote release to open and close the shutter. It only takes a few seconds to capture a firework explosion. If you leave the shutter open too long, then you may get a build up of light that creates overexposure.
For most exposures you should be in the 2 to 8 second range.
Start by setting your ISO to a fairly low number like ISO 100. Remember, these are glowing embers that are relatively bright.
For fireworks, the aperture is the most important exposure setting. It is this setting that you adjust if the ember trails seem to be washed out.
I’d suggest starting at f/11 and then adjust from there. For the display I shot earlier this week, I found f/16 and f/22 worked well. After you capture an image or two, check the display on your camera and make sure that you are capturing colors and not just white overexposed light trails. If it seems like the light trails are loosing color and too white, then adjust your aperture smaller to something like f/16.
A tripod is a must for good firework photography. You don’t want the camera moving during the exposure.
If you haven’t done so already, I’d suggest that you learn to use back button focus. when your’e photographing fireworks, you don’t want the shutter release to turn on auto focus. The camera will have a very difficult time trying to focus on a dark sky. At a minimum, switch your camera to Manual Focus.
So let’s boil it all down. Set a low ISO like 100, shutter speed should be about 2 - 4 seconds. And, for the Holy Grail of fireworks photography, start with an Aperture of f/11. Manually focus your camera and definitely use a tripod. Oh, don’t forget the bug spray.
Photographing fireworks can be such a joy. They are like snowflakes - no two are alike. With a little practice and some patience, you can capture some really beautiful images.