How to photograph fireworks (and how to fake it)

Night photography tips: how to photograph fireworks (and how to fake it)

How to add fireworks in Photoshop


Today is the Fourth of July – a special day for our American readers, many of whom will be venturing out in the evening to take pictures of fireworks displays in their local area.

However, night photography is one of the more challenging genres you can try and shoot, and many times people get it wrong. If you don’t nail your grand finale shot, never fear. Below we show you in 10 easy steps how to add fireworks in Photoshop to make the perfect composite.


How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 1

Open the start images
Launch your copy of Photoshop CS. Go to File>Open to navigate to your start images, then click-and-drag on all them to select them. Click OK to open them up.  For this Photoshop tutorial we used four pictures.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 2

Copy and paste
Select the image with the main fireworks display you want to add, grab the Lasso tool from the Tools palette and make a rough selection of the fireworks in the centre, taking care not to include any of the land features. Press Ctrl+C (Edit>Copy) to copy them, then go to Window>your image with the preferred nightscape. Press Ctrl+V (Edit>Paste) to paste the fireworks cut-out onto a new layer in the nightscape’s Layers palette.     

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 3

Lighten up
Now for the clever bit: to get rid of the black background so that only the fireworks are visible, click on Normal at the top of the Layers palette and select Lighten from the Blending mode drop-down menu. This ensures the pixels that are lighter in the top layer than in the bottom layer show through, while pixels that are darker don’t.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 4

Get moving
By default, the Fireworks have been pasted onto the castle image in their original position. To move them so that they’re no longer obscuring the castle, make sure the fireworks layer is selected, select the Move tool from the Tools palette, and then drag the fireworks up and to the left.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 5

Step 5: Repeat as required
To paste the next set of fireworks onto your nightscape, open one of your other images with the secondary displays and repeat Steps 2 and 3, making sure you select the Lasso tool before you make your selection. Once you’ve changed the Blending mode of your new Fireworks layer to Lighten, grab the Move tool again to drag it above the castle.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 6

Step 6: Position with care
To paste the remaining fireworks onto our final version, open another of your images with the smaller, secondary displays and repeat Steps 2-4. This is what we did, this time dragging the fireworks to the top right-hand corner of the frame. Because these fireworks were cropped in the original image, you need to ensure that they’re placed at the right-hand edge of the frame so that the trails don’t stop mid-air.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 7

Add a reflection
Depending on where you’ve placed the first set of fireworks, you may need to create a reflection in the moat. To do this, make sure Layer 1 is selected and then press Ctrl+J to copy it. Next, go to Edit>Transform
>FlipVertical to create a mirror image of this layer. Double-click on the words Layer 1 Copy in the Layers palette to rename it Layer 1 Reflected. 

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 8

Line it up
Because this new layer is a copy of the original Fireworks layer, its Blending mode is already set to Lighten, so you don’t need to worry about getting rid of the black background. To reposition the flipped fireworks, drag Layer 1 Reflected below Layer 1, then grab the Move tool and drag the flipped fireworks down until they’re in the right place.

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 9

Add some blur
As the castle image was captured at a shutter speed of 15sec, the water in the moat is slightly blurred, as is evident in the reflection of the castle. To blur the fireworks’ reflections so that they look realistic, select Layer 1 Reflected, zoom in on the reflected fireworks and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 2 pixels and then click OK. 

How to add fireworks in Photoshop: step 10

Tone things down
The reflection of the castle isn’t as bright as the castle itself, so the reflected fireworks shouldn’t be as bright as the actual fireworks. To tone them down, select Layer 1 Reflected and drag the Opacity slider to 80%. Repeat Steps 7-10 for the other sets of Fireworks if required. Go to File>SaveAs to save it as a TIFF or JPEG.

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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