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How to photograph fireworks: capture explosive shots this Fourth of July

Watch video: How to photograph fireworks

Taking fireworks images might seem daunting, but it is easier than you might think. Whether you're photographing a professional fireworks display or just enjoying the colorful explosions from the comfort of your back yard, following these guidelines when setting up and shooting will help you get great results.

You’ll also learn a great trick for shooting in Bulb mode that will enable you to capture bursts of multiple fireworks in one amazing shot! 

A great photograph of a burst of multicolored fireworks exploding in sync looks impressive in any portfolio. It’s impossible not to be tempted to snap away during a display when sparklers, bonfires and rockets light up the night.  

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However, without the right settings, your images can end up looking blurry or smoky (or both). Luckily, a little bit of planning and technique is all that’s necessary to learn how to get some really stunning final photographs. 

Trying to shoot elaborate displays that only last a few minutes can be chaotic in the heat of the moment, so turn up early to scope out the location and find a good place to set everything up in plenty of time. 

You’ll need to pack a tripod to keep things steady, as using a long shutter speed is the key to great fireworks photos. This will enable you to capture well-defined trailing lines of light and different bursts of fireworks in one dynamic picture. It’s also a good idea to pack a very low-tech bit of kit – black cardboard – as this will help you control the exposure.

Have fun and soon you will be able to get images like the one above!

Four tips for photography fireworks

(Image credit: Future)

1. Research is key

Research is usually the first step to any amazing shot. Try looking for blog posts by other photographers who have shot the same, or similar, celebrations before. Find examples of photographs of the fireworks and try to work out where they were taken from so you can plan your best angle. Preparation can make all the difference between a good shoot and a great one.

2. Set the stage 

Get to your spot early to set up, then make use of extra time by capturing some shots of the scenery. This will allow you to try out different compositions and get your camera settings in order for your location. Set your zoom and focus but be ready for adjustments on the fly when the show begins.

3. Getting the shot

(Image credit: iStock)

Use remote release to get the best possible image, shooting long exposure right when the fireworks are released. A longer exposure will allow you to capture the explosion and tails in one image. A typical exposure time is between five to ten seconds long. Remember, fireworks are sparks of light! 

Be sure to bring a solid tripod to ensure your images are not blurry and take more photos than you think you’ll need – it’s always better to have extras. When the show ends, don’t move your camera or adjust your zoom settings. Take some images just of the city, capturing a range of exposures as though you were planning an HDR shot, just in case you need them in post processing. 

4. Take advantage of post processing

Post processing is where you can really make a difference. Images of city skylines, for example, are normally taken with a cooler light temperature whereas fireworks look best with a warmer setting. Use those final scenery shots to create a great image of the backdrop using that cooler setting. Try darkening the sky as well, as the sky normally would be black or dark blue when the firework show starts.  And remember, have fun! 

Read more: 

Photography tips (opens in new tab) and techniques videos
The best tripods (opens in new tab) you can buy today
Best low-light cameras (opens in new tab)
Best cameras  (opens in new tab)

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