This topic assumes that you already have an SLR or mirrorless camera and you are comfortable with your camera’s settings and its features. Please click here to review my “Photography 101” for tips on how to use your SLR camera prior to this lesson.
Fireworks are always interesting subject for photographers. Nowadays with DSLR or mirrorless cameras taking picture of fireworks is much easier than before. Here are a few keynotes to capture your favorite photos in dark nights:
Show up early enough before dusk to make sure you can find a good spot. You can either capture the fireworks alone or you can include some foreground like landscape or buildings or bridges in the shot, depending on your location and creativity.
You need a good steady tripod; without a tripod you cannot take a good sharp photo since you are using long exposure, and even the slightest movement can cause huge blurs.
Shutter release cord
Shutter release cords also come handy to make sure you do not touch your camera during shots. A cord attached to your camera helps you keep the shutter open for as long as needed without shaking the camera.
Your camera setup
Here is the tricky part. This depends on your camera, the amount of available light and your distance from fireworks. You may need to modify these settings, but a general rule about fireworks photography:
Use Manual mode on your camera.
Make sure your camera flash is off (if you have a pop up flash on your camera).
Choose a low ISO like 100 or even 50 if possible.
Choose a wide aperture like 2.8 or 4 (choose the lowest aperture available on your lens).
Use manual focus as much as you can, otherwise use your auto focus for the first time you see a firework and then put it on manual. Make sure you do not touch the focus ring on your lens.
Use bulb (B) for your shutter speed* you should keep the shutter open between 3 to 10 seconds, depending on the fireworks.
If your lens has zoom capability then try to zoom enough to get either all the fireworks in frame or to include other subjects, then make sure you do not change your focal length (zoom setting).
And now: ACTION
Wait for the first fire blast after setting up the tripod, mounting the camera, attaching the shutter release cord and making sure that is it stable and steady. Try using manual focus if you can. You only need to do it once. Otherwise, use the auto focus for the first shot, take the camera off the auto focus and leave it for the night. Then wait for the first blast of the series. (During most of the professional firework events you will see a series of blasts for each scene, e.g. three blasts for flowers; the petals, the seeds, and stem). Trigger the shutter as soon as you see the first blast, and hold it until the last blast is faded (typically 3 to 10 seconds.) Understanding the elements of the fireworks is the tough part, not the photography itself. This part needs good observation and lots of practice. For the first couple of tries you may end up missing some parts of the scene, but it’s still a beautiful firework shot being created in your camera.
In most cases there is not much time between each series of bursts, so get ready for the following series of blasts and keep repeating the same steps.
Try not to get frustrated or overwhelmed, like any other type of photography you need to keep practicing and adjust the camera setting to eventually get the best out of the subject.