All over the U.S. on the evening of July 4, there will be fantastic fireworks displays in large cities and small towns, in every corner of the country.
Even though it's not particularly difficult to make great fireworks images, many have a real trouble with it. Problems come because making fireworks images takes thought and planning, and because many don't understand that while it's dark outside, fireworks are extremely bright, so very long exposures only wash out the photos. An exposure of just 2–4 seconds is all that's needed to capture the light, including the fireworks' tails.
Here are some of my tips so you can photograph the fireworks near you, like a pro, using your digital camera:
• Scout for a location to photograph the fireworks, and choose wisely — Find a position which won’t have people wandering in front of you. Stay away from streetlamps to avoid unwanted light. Watch out for undesirable objects in your images such as tree limbs jutting into the middle of your photos. Take a few test shots to ensure nothing unexpected will be in your images.
• Arrive early — You want to be sure you get that great view you scouted for your fireworks images. Arriving early will also give you time to setup.
• Always use a tripod — Good fireworks photography requires exposures lasting several seconds, or longer, to capture light trails, full bursts and hopefully multiple bursts in each image.
• Use a remote shutter release — Even minute movement of your camera will cause blurred photos. A remote shutter release will help avoid camera movement when you press its button.
• Fully charge your camera's battery(s) — You don't want your
• Bring an extra memory card — Format your memory cards to ensure they have maximum capacity, and bring an extra card to ensure you don't miss shooting the finale.
• Use manual focus — The fireworks, will be several hundred yards (meters) away. The night sky will make it difficult to focus, so manually set your focus to infinity.
If your “Point and Shoot” camera doesn't have a manual focus mode, set it to landscape mode, if it has one, as a “work around.”
• Use the highest quality setting for your photos — I shoot fireworks exclusively in RAW format. If you take your photos in JPG, chose the best quality and the largest size (least compression). This is especially important for fireworks photographs because JPG compression artifacts are often created when the photograph has a high range of luminance and color contrast, like the bright colored light of fireworks bursting against a black sky.
• Chose a low ISO setting for your photos — Long exposures combined with high ISO settings often cause ugly noise in digital photographs, most visible in the dark areas of your fireworks photos. Choose an ISO of 50–200.
• Choose an aperture based on your ISO setting — A good starting point would be f/8 to f/16 at ISO=100 or f/11 to f/22 at ISO=200. Check your photos periodically as you shoot, and adjust the aperture as necessary.
• Fireworks are very bright not needing very long exposures — While the show will be at night, fireworks are very bright lights. Don't overexpose your images. Use your camera in manual mode. I expose my fireworks photos from 2–4 seconds, to capture the trail and full bursts. Longer exposures will likely produce washed-out images. Use your DSLR’s B (Bulb) shutter setting. Try to anticipate the beginning of the burst and open the shutter, then close it immediately after it reaches its peak. Anticipating the explosion is difficult, but not impossible.
If your “Point and Shoot” camera doesn’t have a “B” setting, choose a fixed setting, such as 2 seconds. Shorter times may require you to open your aperture more.
• Bring a small flashlight — A flashlight will enable you to see your camera’s controls and settings.
• Set your White Balance — to daylight.
• Frame your photo well — More often than not, but not always, a vertical format is a good choice as the trail of a skyrocket is usually upward and not wide. Consider the crowd, your position, and how the fireworks are deployed.
• Use a normal to wide angle lens — Your position relative to the fireworks' bursts will determine the exact focal length to use. Frame your image so you have a reasonably sized foreground and "head-room" above the topmost fireworks' bursts.
• Consider adding foreground subjects to your fireworks photos — Consider including a statue in the foreground, or silhouettes of the crowd, a tree, bridge or building. Note how I used the museum in my photo. Watch your horizons to keep them straight, especially if you have foreground subjects in your photos.
• Generally turn off your flash — Your flash is useless for photographing the fireworks themselves, but might be helpful if you’re trying to light something or someone in the foreground to give your photo context and extra interest.