Fireworks Photography Tips

Fireworks are amazing, beautiful and spectacular to watch (if you like fireworks that is…if you don’t …well you might want to stop reading now because, as the title might suggest, this whole post is dedicated to them).

Here’s a few shots from this years Bridgwater Firework Display at St. Matthew’s Field (taken from Northfield for anyone local).

Bridgwater Fireworks 2013-8 - Copyright Justin Krause

It’s around this time of year, with it being nearly Bonfire Night and coming up to New Years Eve, that people frequently ask me how they can take better photographs of fireworks. A lot of them are worried that they’re “too hard to shoot”. I say “give it a go!”  Have a read the hints and tips below. You might be surprised with your results!

Hopefully these tips will be useful for anyone in the world who loves celebrating with fireworks –  Thanksgiving, New Year, 4th July, 1st July, Cinqo de Mayo, Bastille Day etc or for a wedding or other celebrations.

Photos from Bridgwater Fireworks can be seen here:

FIRSTLY…Try not to drop your camera…and if you do intend on beating it up make sure you have a lens hood on as it will help absorb impacts…yes, I dropped our Canon 6D with the 24-105mm F/4L right on it’s nose from about 5ft high as I was trying to put it on the tripod (in the semi darkness), saved only by the lens hood I’m certain. Anyway, I put it on the tripod as the display was starting and proceeded to take all the photographs so it still works!


1 -USE A TRIPOD. This might sound obvious but we see  a lot of people taking photographs with their cameras handheld. Sure, you can get shots of fireworks with short exposures but if you’re after the type of shot where you see the firework as long streaks then you’ll want a long exposure. To keep the camera as still as possible you’ll want to use a tripod (I could go off on a tangent about what kind of tripod but that really is another whole post). Suffice to say that even the cheapest tripod for around £20 will be better than just holding the camera in your hands for a few seconds and hoping for the best.

2 – LONG EXPOSURE. How long though? That depends on what you think looks best. There’s no hard and fast rule to this and the beauty with digital is that you can see it right away and either adjust your settings OR as I did for these shots, guessed my shutter times and used used the BULB setting on the camera – holding the shutter open for as long as I held the button…which leads me on to my next tip.

3 – USE A REMOTE SHUTTER RELEASE. Why? Because you don’t risk shaking the camera when you’re pressing and holding the shutter button if you’re using it in Bulb. PLUS you can watch the firework display easier which then also means you can guess when a BIG ONE is going to go off and hit the shutter to start the exposure (and therefore get the trail of the firework going up AND the explosion!  BOOM! )

4 – LOW ISO. You’re using a tripod now hopefully…why crank the ISO when you don’t need to?

5 – APERTURE. Some people ask if they need to use a fast lens as they’re shooting in the dark. Not really, fire is pretty light, especially when it’s set against a dark sky. I shoot fireworks from around F/5.6 to F/10. Why? Because it’s what works for me (also in some of these shots I wanted to keep a human element in some of them with the trees in the foreground which I wanted in focus).

6 – MANUAL FOCUS. Trying to autofocus in semi darkness even with an L-Series lens is likely to lead to you missing the shot. Set it manually in the first couple of fireworks going up. Once you’ve set your focus you’ll find you probably won’t need to change it during the fireworks display – due to the increased depth of field (DoF) due to your aperture setting. The only reason you’ll need to refocus would be if you zoomed in or out more.

7 – CHECK THE WIND. You want the smoke from the fireworks to be behind the fireworks ideally –>  YOU -> CAMERA -> FIREWORKS -> SMOKE – in that order. Be setup and ready for the start of the display because the first few salvos will most likely be your clearest/cleanest shots!

8 – If you haven’t already SWITCH OFF YOUR FLASH! Again, this might be obvious to some but not so much to others. Take it from me, unless you want to light up someone/something in the foreground it won’t help you so save your batteries.

9 – WHAT LENS? Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE our Prime lenses, but I like the option of zooming in on sections of the display if I want to without having to switch lenses halfway through the firework display. Which lens you use  is down to personal preference (and budget) really. Do you want to get a really wide, all encompassing shot of a landscape or do you want to crop in more? Answer those questions and you’ll have your answer.

10 – FRAMING & HORIZONS.  This is more for the perfectionists out there but a massive pet hate of mine is wonky horizons…it literally kills me!  Also how to frame your shot is something to maybe think about. It will add differnet elements and layers into your photograph. Should you shoot vertically (portrait) or horizontally (landscape)? That depends on the type of shot you’re after and also on your surroundings but bear in mind that fireworks generally go up (the good ones anyway!) in the air, up high and explode.

11 – HAVE FUN !! Go have a play and have FUN doing it! There’s lots more tricks out there, like holding black card or foam in front of the lens in between firework salvos to get a MASSIVE burst but get used to the easy bits first!


Post us links to your favourite fireworks photographs you’ve taken aswell as any more tips on photographing fireworks.

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