How to Photograph Fireworks



Happy 4th of July! With the holiday fast approaching, keep in mind that photographing a fireworks display is fun and easy. If you own a point-and-shoot compact camera, check the “Modes” or “Effects” menu to see if there is either a “Fireworks” icon, or a “Night” (with no flash) setting. A growing number of compact cameras offer one of these choices.

A changeable-lens SLR camera will give you the best quality fireworks images, and the most control over the capturing of them.

Virtually all SLRs have a “B” or “Bulb” shutter speed setting that allows you to manually keep the shutter open for as long as you want. When photographing fireworks, the idea is to use the Bulb setting to open the shutter while one or more bursts take place. The length of time the shutter is open is typically 1-4 seconds, depending on the size and frequency of the bursts.

Along with the Bulb setting, a tripod (any size) is needed to keep the camera perfectly still while the shutter is open. Because of the brightness of the fireworks, you do not need a high ISO setting or a large aperture opening in the lens. Nor do you need a powerful telephoto lens, if you are an average distance from the display. Usually a focal length of 70mm to 100mm is sufficient. For focusing, it is best to switch from Auto to Manual focus, since the intermittent bursts do not give the autofocus enough time to lock onto the correct distance. After switching to manual focus, make sure the lens is focused for a faraway subject (Infinity setting).

Here are 10 steps for capturing fireworks images with your SLR:

  • Set ISO to 200 (or 100, if camera permits)
  • Set exposure mode to M (manual)
  • Set f/stop to 16 or 22
  • Set shutter speed to B (bulb)
  • Set focus to M and set lens focus distance to Infinity
  • Attach camera (or lens) to tripod
  • Adjust camera position to vertical composition
  • Zero in on area of sky where fireworks are bursting
  • Experiment with various numbers of bursts per exposure
  • Have fun!

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