Photography Guide – Capturing Fireworks

Equipment

Proper equipment is key for success in capturing fireworks. As night-time photography has its challenges, the key features to look for is the ability for:

  • Manual Focus
  • Manual Mode (for Exposure and Aperture)
  • Ability to affix the camera to a stationary object

Required equipment in addition to the camera:

  • Tripod or means to secure camera (no hand holding)
  • External trigger (helpful, not required)

Based on the required functionality, forget the cell phone camera as it will perform poorly. The best options are to use a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Any such camera as micro 4/3, crop, or full-frame with manual controls will work well.

Guide:

The exposure triangle uses various settings to control exposure. With fireworks, the relationships in the exposure triangle are modified. I recommend adjusting the settings in the following order:

Shutter Speed – first want to adjust how long to capture a firework “in action”. Shutter speed that is too fast will leave to light trails. Shutter speed that is too slow will leave long light trails that obscure the firework. A reasonable setting I like is around 2 to 4 seconds.

ISO – next is ISO to adjust the overall exposure of the image. As the shutter speed is “fixed” to capturing the firework light trails, ISO must be used to adjust exposure. As always, adjust about 1 stop to the dark side, save the highlights and fix in post-processing tool such as Adobe Lightroom. I mostly use ISO 100.
This setting may need to be tuned after Aperture adjustment.

Aperture – last is aperture to set the exposure of the firework itself. A low f/stop will cause the firework to be blown out and overexposed. A high f/stop will miss or underexpose the fast-moving action. I typically use f/7.1 to f/9.

As with any night time photography, getting good focus can be difficult combined with fireworks which are temporary lit in the sky. As a result, autofocus is not suitable. Switch the focus mechanism to manual focus and focus on an object far away. This will set a good infinity focus point that will work great to capture sharp fireworks.

As with any long exposure photography, put the camera on a stable tripod, disable the use of camera and lens stabilization as these systems are not designed for tripod use and can introduce motion blur.

Lastly, using an external trigger will give you the ability to take a picture at the right moment and keep your hands away from introducing movement to the camera. Work on the timing, as starting the capture early to late into the firework has significantly different and unique effects.

The above settings are used as a guide based on a full-frame camera. Every camera has a different sensor sensitivity which will require some test pictures and adjustment to baseline settings.

Most importantly, don’t get caught up with the camera and enjoy the firework display!

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