Shooting fireworks just got easier – here’s how to get it right on the night
Fireworks are a challenging subject to photograph, exposing under dark skies with bright flashes going off in every direction can test your technical camera skills to the limit. By using your camera’s manual settings, and paying attention to your exposures, you can set yourself up to take outstanding fireworks shots. We’ve even included a five step guide…
Using Manual exposure mode, select an aperture of between f/8 and f/ 3 and the Bulb setting for shutter speed (scroll through the slowest shutter speeds to find it). When the shutter‘s open, use a black card to cover the lens between bursts of fireworks.
I try to wait until the firework has burst before removing the card to catch the light trails. Continue this for up to one minute, depending on the amount of fireworks.
Choose your viewpoint, focus your shot and set it, but be careful not to centre on the wrong thing. And use Manual focus rather than Auto. In the shot below, the autofocus zoomed past the subject.
Expose for too long and you will get highlight burnout. Keep checking your histogram and preview image to gauge your exposure times. This usually happens when you use your camera‘s normal shooting modes, such as Aperture or Shutter Priority.
Sometimes the effect is good, but beware of white noise with darker shots. The huge difference between exposure ranges can make it a tricky subject for the camera‘s metering modes to cope with, which can ruin a perfectly good shot.
Five steps to great firework pics
As soon as the fireworks start you need to gauge the height that they will reach – crop too tightly and they will be cut off at the top. If you pre-focus before the show this re-framing should be a quick and simple process.
2. Use a zoom lens
Using a zoom lens will give you more options for framing. A standard 18-70mm, or even a telephoto 70-300mm, offer great versatility and will save you swapping mid-show. Don‘t forget to re-focus, after zooming.
3. Control exposure
Timing is essential with fireworks, expose too long and you will end up with blown out highlights, too short an exposure will result in empty black space. Use the Bulb setting and a black card to control the exposure.
4. Weather watch
Watch the weather and pre-plan. If it‘s windy the fireworks will trail off, if it‘s too still you will get a build-up of smoke. Watch the forecast and have back-up viewpoints planned if conditions turn out to be changeable.
5. The viewpoint
If possible photograph the firework show near water. The explosions will reflect on the surface and create great colours. Choose a viewpoint with a good foreground – boats or coastal rocks can anchor the shot.