How to Photograph Fireworks: Camera Settings & Tips

Whether it’s Independence day or New Years there are plenty of opportunities to photograph fireworks throughout the year. In this article I’ll go over firework photography tips including the best settings for fireworks photos and what gear you’ll need.

Typically firework shows can last 15 to 30 minutes so being prepared before hand will help you get the best shots. You’ll have very little time to fiddle with settings and gear.

Camera Settings for Fireworks

You’ll want to shoot using manual exposure and manual focus. This will ensure your camera settings don’t change when the firework shot starts. If you use autofocus you’re camera could be hunting for focus during the fireworks show.

Here’s a quick breakdown of camera settings for fireworks:

  • Use a tripod
  • Shoot RAW
  • ISO 100-200
  • Aperture f/8-f13 (for brighter trails user a lower f-stop, for more color use a higher f-stop)
  • Bulb or 3-5 seconds (open the shutter right before the explosion)
  • Turn off Noise Reduction
  • Disable lens and sensor stabilization
  • Manually focus on something at the same distance of the fireworks before they launch

Now let’s go into detail of each setting for getting the best photos of fireworks.

Generally you’ll want to shoot RAW instead of JPEG which will allow you more editing flexibility in shadows and white balance. Shooting in manual with a low ISO like ISO 100-200 will ensure your photos have little grain. Experiment with different apertures but f/8-f/13 will give you darker richer colors while lower f-stops like f/2.8 will give you a brighter image. Just keep in mind your aperture will affect your shutter speed. You’ll likely want to shoot with a shutter release and bulb, holding the shutter open when the firework goes off. Alternatively a 3-5 second exposure will do the trick, just quickly note if your exposure too bright or dark while shooting to adjust on the fly.

There are also a few minor camera settings you’ll want to adjust. You’ll want to turn off your camera’s noise reduction since this process slows down shooting. Additionally turning off lens and sensor stabilization will ensure your camera doesn’t move during tripod shooting. You’ll likely want your lens to be in manual focus mode so you aren’t focus hunting during shooting. This can be done by focusing on something in the distance before they launch or focusing on the first firework then turning manual focus on.

Keep reading for specific firework photography tips & tricks.

Firework Photography Tips

Now let’s go into detail of each settings to getting the best photos of fireworks.

1. Use a Tripod

To get the sharpest and cleanest shots you’ll need to use a tripod to reduce camera shake. This is extremely important because you’ll be doing 2+ second long exposures to capture all of the details of the fireworks. By dragging the shutter in photos the effect of the fireworks is pronounced.

2. Reduce Shaking by using a Remote Release

Every time you hit the shutter button there is a small amount of shaking that occurs. This is why using a 2-second delay or shutter release is essential. I found it really hard to time capturing the fireworks going off with a 2-second delay so I recommend a remote.

Most camera brands make remote shutter buttons for their cameras that allow you to simply plug them in and hit a button to trigger the shutter. This will make it easy to perfectly time your shutter opening when the firework explosion goes off. Alternatively most newer cameras will let you trigger the shutter using an app. Just make sure your phone is connected and ready to go before the firework shot.

Using bulb mode in your camera will allow you to hold the shutter for as long as a firework is exploding. So right before the firework is about to explode you can hold your remote’s release in bulb mode to capture the scene as the firework fades over a few seconds.

You’ll also want to disable lens and image stabilization in your camera so that they don’t add movements to your exposure.

3. Know Where the Fireworks Will Launch

This is important, since the firework show will go by quickly you’ll want to ensure your camera is setup and ready to go. Research where the fireworks will be set off, the wind direction, and knowledge of previous years angles. I would recommend looking up previous years fireworks on sites like Flickr.

Things like the wind direction will affect where fireworks launch and if smoke will clear. Ideally you want some light wind to clear out the smoke from the fireworks to keep your shots clean.

This will help you have an angle in mind and being prepared for the show. Knowing where the fireworks will go off also helps you achieve interesting angles and lining up foreground or background elements.

4. Try Different Focal Lengths

Depending on your composition trying different angles and focal lengths can lead to interesting shots. Especially if you’re viewing the fireworks with a large crowd you can try wide shots with people in the foreground. Alternatively trying telephoto lens or telephoto lens to compress landmarks with the fireworks.

Just keep in mind you changing lenses can waste valuable time during the middle of the show.

5. Show Up Early

Some of the best vantage points for fireworks, especially in large cities will fill up with crowds hours in advance. It’s best to show up early so you can have room for your tripod and work out the best angle for your photos.

In Washington DC some of the best areas will be full of photographers hours before the show.

Crowds at Netherlands Carillon in D.C. by @abpanphoto

Want to improve your travel photography?
Read: Travel Photography Tips

I hope you found this guide to firework photography helpful! If you have any questions or tips for others let me know in the comments below.

Good luck on your 4th of July adventure or wherever you’re capturing a fireworks display.

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