How to photograph fireworks: discover how to get better Guy Fawkes and Fourth of July pictures with these simple tips, as well as our tutorial on how to fake it in Photoshop.
Photographing fireworks is fun, but it isn’t easy jostling with crowds, plus you have to guess when and where they will explode. Some longer displays give time to experiment, but the clock is more often against you.
The best fireworks photos include something in the foreground to provide context or interest. The challenge comes in combining foreground and background so they’re not only well composed, but also exposed: expose for a floodlit building and the fireworks may look blown out; do the opposite, and the building may be too dark.
Thanks to the power of Photoshop, however, we can expose for the building and fireworks in separate shots and then combine them. Not only does this enable us to get a balanced exposure, but it also means choosing which fireworks to include.
In this tutorial, we’ll start by sharing some of the key photography tips to remember when you go out to photograph fireworks on events such as today’s Fourth of July celebrations or Guy Fawkes’ Day. Then we’ll dissect one of our own pictures of fireworks to explain why it works.
Finally, if you missed your pictures of fireworks or you just can’t be bothered, we’ll show you how to fake it by making your own great fireworks composites…
6 tips for how to photograph fireworks
Step up to the challenge
It can be hard to avoid the crowds when shooting fireworks. While including a silhouette of a line of heads gazing upwards adds context, if you want to shoot anything else in the foreground – our castle, for example – there are bound to be people in the way.
One way round this is to carry a small, collapsible stool or step ladder that will give you extra height – as long as your tripod extends high enough, of course.
Take a head torch
Photographing in the dark can be tricky: even if your menu screen features a backlight, you can’t always see your D-SLR’s buttons. A small, LED head torch provides light for close-up work, and can be switched off when it’s time to start snapping.
Set Manual focus
One of the keys to successful firework photos is getting the fireworks in focus.
To ensure that your lens doesn’t starting hunting back and forth for the focus point when you’re actually taking your shot, pre-focus on something light and on the ground that’s the same distance away as where the fireworks will be and then switch your lens to Manual focus to lock it in place.
To learn more about how to focus manually, see our in-depth guide Manual Focus: what you need to know to get sharp images
Use Manual mode
Shooting fireworks can be a bit of a lottery, but one way of improving your odds is to keep your settings consistent.
A tried and tested method is to select Manual mode and then set an ISO of 200 (for relatively grain-free shots) and an aperture of around f/11 (when it comes to sharpness, the sweet spot of most lenses is between f/8 and f/13).
All you need to think about then is shutter speed. It’s worth experimenting with different speeds, but anything between 1-4 secs should do the trick; this will ensure that the sky remains nice and dark, and that the fireworks aren’t over-exposed (for more on shutter speeds, see our guide Common mistakes at every shutter speed – and the best settings to use).
Buy a cable release
We’re always banging on about the importance of using shutter release cables for all sorts of subjects, but in the case of fireworks, they’re essential.
The only way to ensure sharp, shake-free shots of a firework in full bloom is to release the shutter just before the rocket explodes at the top of its trajectory.
Pressing the shutter button manually may jog the camera, and a self-timer makes it all but impossible to get the timing right.
Get warmed up!
Messing about with camera settings on a cold winter’s night can quickly result in cold hands and numb fingertips. One way to ensure you can still feel the buttons and dials on your DSLR is to keep a hand-warmer in a coat pocket, or in the palm of a glove.
If it’s really cold, it can also be used to warm up batteries, which tend to be a lot less effective (and don’t last nearly as long) when they’re cold.
PAGE 1: 6 tips for how to photograph fireworks
PAGE 2: Set up your camera to photograph fireworks
PAGE 3: How to add fireworks in Photoshop
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