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Fireworks


Firm camera support is essential for any time exposure photography. A solid tripod is your best bet.
Firm camera support is essential for any time exposure photography. A solid tripod is your best bet.

Colorful and spectacular, fireworks pictures are always interesting to look at it. And they are not that difficult to photograph. By observing the pointers below, you can avoid many of the mistakes that beginning photographers make, and capture excellent fireworks pictures the first time you try.

1. If you can, scout the area in advance to locate a shooting position that will give you an unhindered view, where you won’t be jostled by tightly-packed crowds and where your tripod can be securely set up.


2. Too crowded where you want to be? Can you set up your tripod in the back of a pickup truck to give you elbow room and get you above the heads of the crowd? Or bring a platform (a wooden crate) that you and your tripod will fit on. A long tripod and a small stepladder may do the job. How about standing on a hillside or atop a rise? Or on a roof, a balcony, porch or inside through someone’s window, with the owner’s permission secured in advance?

3. Don’t get too close. Positioning yourself within a few feet of the launch area will limit your ability to capture the full effect of the show. Fireworks are meant to be seen from afar. (On the other hand, you may be after shots that can only be taken from close range, and are willing to sacrifice the more typical fireworks images for close-ups of people igniting sparklers.)

Check the wind direction when finding a viewing spot. Make sure it's coming from your back, so smoke gets blown away and won't obscure your view.
Check the wind direction when finding a viewing spot. Make sure it's coming from your back, so smoke gets blown away and won't obscure your view.

This image was hand-held at a slow shutter speed. It can be done, but a tripod will help make your images sharper.
This image was hand-held at a slow shutter speed. It can be done, but a tripod will help make your images sharper.

4. Use a camera that allows manual control of the shutter and aperture, and that will attach to a tripod. Attach a cable release to open the shutter without causing camera movement.

5. The word “tripod” is mentioned several times above, not by accident, because it is essential for sharp pictures to have a solid support to keep the camera absolutely still for the long exposure times needed to shoot fireworks. Don’t leave home without one.

6. Just about any lens, normal, wide-angle or telephoto, will do the job, so choose the one that will suit the perspective you have in mind, or interchange them (or use a zoom lens) over the course of the event. A telephoto lens may provide you with the most satisfactory results.


7. Aperture settings in the range of ƒ8 and ƒ11, assuming a fairly slow film speed (ISO 50 to ISO 100), should provide you with good exposures. Faster film can also be used, but you may need to shut down the lens considerably to employ the slower shutter speeds for the relatively long exposures needed to capture the fireworks as they expand across the sky.

8. Slide film is fine and preferred by many publishers, a point to keep in mind if you plan on submitting images for publication. Many photographers like the greater contrast control and exposure latitude of color negative film when shooting fireworks.

9. Exposure times will be long. Set the shutter speed to "B" (Bulb) for manual exposure and use a locking cable release. If you are using film with an ISO of 64, try starting at four seconds at ƒ8 and work your way down to as long 10 or even 15 seconds, bracketing your exposures. The key, as obvious as it sounds, is for your shutter to be open just when the bursts occur. There is an element of guesswork involved since fireworks come in varying degrees of brightness. Successful fireworks shots can also be taken with shutter speeds as fast as 1/30 second, providing you have good timing.

10. You may want to open the shutter just as a skyrocket is set off to capture its trail as it zooms skyward and leave your lens open to include the eventual overhead burst. This exposure can be as long as 30 seconds. With this technique, be sure in advance that you have sufficient area in your view frame to capture the start and finish of the exposure. It would be a shame to have the shot end in a spectacular overhead burst just outside of your viewfinder.

Don't leave the camera insde when there is a neighborhood fireworks display. Even a small show can make colorful pictures.
Don't leave the camera insde when there is a neighborhood fireworks display. Even a small show can make colorful pictures.

Your biggest problem may be knowing where to aim your lens to capture a series of bursts. They usually occur in more or less the same area of sky as the first bursts.
Your biggest problem may be knowing where to aim your lens to capture a series of bursts. They usually occur in more or less the same area of sky as the first bursts.

11. When to close the shutter? Either when you feel you have captured “the shot” or when the sky goes dark. Be careful, though, that you don’t wait too long for the light to drop off and suddenly find you are shooting an unwanted secondary rocket trail or burst.

12. Be mindful of the weather. If you can ascertain which way the wind is likely to be blowing, select an upwind position so the smoke from the pyrotechnics does not get between you and the display.

13. Don’t shy away from using the fireworks smoke in your shot. Smoke can reflect light and provide a strong element of interest.

14. Positioning yourself so that water or ice is in the foreground to reflect the fireworks can contribute to a spectacular shot. If it is drizzling, a flat surface (walkway, road surface or courtyard) can become an almost mirror-like reflector of the bright heavenly events.


15. Consider including a building’s glass facade to provide a double image.

16. Find an unusual shooting location (atop or inside a high-rise building, behind an architectural frame or natural frame of tree branches) to provide a unique and creative view.

17. Be creative. Look around you, not just at the fireworks. Capture the expressions of the audience as the bursts occur overhead, or shoot a reflection of the display in the curved windshield of a vintage automobile or the chrome face of a store display. Get down low with a wide-angle lens, and include the crowd in a picture as they gaze upwards.

18. Whether the fireworks celebration is in a major city or a rural landscape, consider including a recognizable feature (a landmark, a well-known building, boats or a pier, for example) in the frame. You may only get a silhouette of the building or feature, so select an angle that will render the silhouette recognizable. If the feature is by itself illuminated, that can work in your favor, although you may wish to use tungsten film to correctly match the lighting. Calculating your time exposure based on metering the feature’s illumination should give you well-balanced exposures.

19. You can use fill flash to illuminate foreground objects, or you can shoot them either as silhouettes or rely upon the light from the fireworks to illuminate them.

20. Some fireworks displays form letters on a frame at ground level, such as “Go Team Go” or colorful graphics such as the flag or other images. Have patience when you see this happen. Don’t be too anxious to shoot until the entire figure or sign is lit up, but then don’t waste any time to be sure to capture the full image before parts of it begin to go out.

21. Keep in mind that most fireworks shows – whether put on by your neighbors or the huge, professional displays at major celebrations – build up to a grand finale where the best or the most is saved for last. Be sure not to use up all your film before the final blow-up.

22. To capture a number of consecutive bursts in one frame (i.e., more than one launching in a single picture), lock the shutter in an open position, cover the front of the lens with a dark material like a stiff black card, and remove the card only when the bursts occur. By watching the rocket trails as they climb skywards, you can predetermine where the burst is likely to take place, and compose the frame so the entire sky appears to be filled with one enormous display. Don’t overdo it; balance is the objective, not crowding your image with overlapping light trails. And don’t forget, cover the lens immediately after the display has peaked and remember the shutter is still open beneath that hand-held cover. Close the shutter before you remove the cover.

What can be more rewarding than a well-aimed, well-photographed double-skyrocket burst?
What can be more rewarding than a well-aimed, well-photographed double-skyrocket burst?