Tag Archives: tips

Photographing Fireworks

Hey gang!  I love photographing fireworks! I thought I’d share a few tips that will help you get better fireworks photos.

The two most important rules are:

  1. Be safe
    If you are working with your own fireworks, safety is of utmost importance. You sure don’t want to spend your evening in the emergency room, or watching a firetruck putting out the fire on your roof.  I am sure you know this already. 🙂
  2. Have fun
    Photographing fireworks is a lot of fun. I just had to list this as the #2 important rule because safety simply has to come first!

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Ok, Now Do I Need to State the Obvious?

Well I guess I’d better.  Make sure your memory card has plenty of room for the photographs you are going to take, and make sure your battery is fully charged.  The last thing you want to have to mess with is fumbling around in the dark in your camera bag for a spare battery or memory card once the fireworks show is under way!  You DO have a spare battery and memory card, don’t you?? 😉

Think About Placement Ahead of Time

When you are going to photograph a fireworks show, think about the location you are choosing for doing the photography.

    • Think about where the fireworks will go off
    • What’s framing your photos?
    • Pay attention to any distracting lights (streetlight?) that might be in the photos once nightfall arrives
    • Pay attention to distractions along the horizon
    • Think about how horizontal / vertical oriented shots will look at that location
    • Remember, shooting into an Eastern sky will generally be darker than shooting into a Western sky since fireworks shows typically start right after sunset.
    • Once you have lots of people there to watch the show, will there be people in front of you possibly blocking your view?
    • Which way is the wind blowing?  For example will the wind blow the fireworks smoke toward you?  If so, that means you will be photographing through the smoke!  Think about that when setting up.
    • The first fireworks have less smoke, but it might become more of an issue the longer the fireworks show goes on, and depending on your vantage point and wind speed.

Use a Tripod

You simply must use a tripod when photographing fireworks! Use a good stable tripod that is not at all wobbly, and make sure you do not touch or bump the tripod while you are photographing.  If you do, there will be a wobble in the fireworks streaks.

You might be enjoying the music of John Philip Sousa, but whatever you do, don’t start tapping your feet on the leg of the tripod while listening to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as you photograph the fireworks!!  😉

Also, if you happen to be shooting from a wooden deck, be careful!! If your tripod is on a wooden deck, every little vibration will get transferred to the tripod, then to the camera, and it will cause little “wiggles” in the streaking lights in the photos.

A Flashlight Comes in Handy

Having a small flashlight or even the flashlight on a smart phone can be really handy so you can see the buttons on your camera.

Camera Settings

Most fireworks photography involves using time exposures with your camera mounted on a tripod.  Here are the general settings you can use.

  • Tripod: Like I said above, make sure the camera is on a tripod!
  • Exposure Mode: Use Manual Exposure Mode
  • Focus: Switch the lens to Manual Focus and focus the lens on infinity (and double-check this often, because it is easy to bump your lens focus ring and get the shot out of focus). Auto focus simply will NOT work for fireworks photography!
  • Lens Focal Length:  I find most of my shots are in the 24mm to 100mm focal length range (on a full frame sensor camera).
    • If you have a camera with a smaller sensor, for example an APS-C sensor, take into account your sensor’s “crop factor”.
    • If you don’t know what any of that means, just shoot more wider-angle shots, and judge how much you zoom in based on the shots you are getting.  Try some telephoto (“zoomed in”) shots also!
    • Make sure you take into account leaving enough room for high-rising fireworks.
  • ISO: Stick with your lowest ISO settings like 100 or 200
  • Aperture:  I have found most fireworks photos work well with an Aperture value set to between f/8 and f/22.
    • The more you open the aperture (lower f/number) the brighter the fireworks are
    • The more you close down the aperture (higher f/number) the darker and richer the colors are in the fireworks
  • Shutter Speed:  Usually 2.5 – 20 seconds is fine
    • Or you could use Bulb Mode to indefinitely open the shutter while the shutter released button is pressed.  I tend to prefer just picking a shutter speed.
    • What is different from normal photography is how the shutter speed affects the fireworks photographs.  Normally, if you open the shutter for longer times, the image gets brighter.  It is different when you are photographing moving streaks of light.
      • Slower shutter speeds cause the streaks of light to be longer
      • Faster shutter speeds cause the streaks of light to be shorter
  • Triggering the Shutter:  Exercise caution in causing any wobble from pressing the shutter release button because that wobble will be recorded in the photograph as the streaks of light will be wiggled.  You can avoid this by:
    • Use a remote shutter release (wireless or wired), OR you can
    • Set the camera shutter on a 2 second delay. That way you can press the shutter release button and then take your hands OFF the camera until it has finished taking the photograph.
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction: Your camera has a feature called Long Exposure Noise Reduction.  While it IS useful for reducing digital “noise” (graininess) in longer exposure shots, it can be a bit frustrating when photographing fireworks.  The camera will do its long exposure noise reduction process in proportion to the length of time of the photograph. So, if you take a 20 second photograph, once the exposure is complete, it will take another 20 seconds to do the noise reduction.  That means your camera is busy doing image processing and is not available to take another photograph until it is done. Since fireworks shows only last for a short period of time, you might consider turning off the Long Exposure Noise Reduction and just apply noise reduction on your computer (for example in Adobe Lightroom).
  • Pay attention to the results you are getting and make adjustments as needed!  If the photos are too bright, close down the aperture (higher f/number).  If you want the streaks of light to be longer, shift to slower shutter speeds.

Note how changing the aperture value changes the brightness of the fireworks, but the lengths of the streaks of light are about the same because the shutter speeds are the same:

fireworks photography

Note how changing the shutter speed changes the lengths of the streaks of light:

fireworks photography

fireworks photography

One more fun thing you can try is Light Painting!

With your camera on a tripod and the shutter speed set to 30 seconds, go out in front of the camera and swirl around sparklers and play with “light painting.”  It is so much fun!

fireworks light painting

Now, go out there and have fun!  And remember, BE SAFE!

Kevin Gourley


© Kevin Gourley Photography, Austin, TX


My Top 6 Lessons Learned in Photography

I was thinking about the various things I have learned about photography over the years. What did I learn?  How did I learn it?

I thought it might be helpful to share some of my insights about my top 6 lessons learned. Most of these things I either learned from other instructors or sometimes from making horrible mistakes. I don’t recommend making horrible mistakes, but that is sure one way to learn a lesson. 😉

Lesson 1
Pay attention to what you are doing and get it right in camera.

This lesson was something I learned a long time ago (like 35 years ago)!  I think it was really beneficial that I started out in photography back in the days of film.  I shot many many rolls of Kodakchrome 64 slide film.

After I took a series of photographs, I had to send the film off to Kodak to be processed.  With slide film, the developed film is then cut into individual photographs that were placed in cardboard mounts and I would have to show the photos using a projector.  So the photograph I saw in the slide was the actual image I created in the camera.  Whether or not I properly exposed the photograph, I would see the results. There was no faking it.  If I did a bad job, my slide was ruined. I had to get it right.

The fact that the results were not immediate (because I had to have the film developed) meant that I really had to pay attention to what I was doing, otherwise I was wasting a lot of money.  As a student in college, I didn’t have much money, so I payed attention.  My meticulous attention to details (because I had to save money) made me a better photographer.

Even in this digital age, it is much better to get your photograph right in camera rather than just leaning on “fixing” the image after you took it. If you start with a well-exposed shot, you will always end up with a superior end result.


Lesson 2
Manage the shutter speed carefully.

Depending on the light available, ISO, and aperture you have chosen, you will end up with some shutter speed value. I learned this the hard way, but I learned it:  If I do not have the shutter speed fast enough, the photo will not be sharp because of hand vibration / movement.  The general rule of thumb for hand-held photography is to make sure the shutter speed is at least 1 / focal length (of the lens). If you are shooting with a 70-200mm zoom lens with it zoomed to 200mm, then make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/200th second. Technically that rule is for a full frame sensor camera. For a camera with an APS-C sensor, you should modify that rule to take into account the “crop factor” of your camera (usually 1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon).  A 200mm lens on a Canon Rebel would effectively be 200 x 1.6 = 300mm. So make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/300th second.

Many lenses these days (and some camera bodies) have image stabilization that allows you to break these rules a bit.  So the rule is approximate.

You also need to take into account the movement of the subject. If there is a lot of movement of the subject, you may need to use a shutter speed even faster than the rule of 1 / focal length.

Lesson 3
Manage the depth of field.

You are in control of the depth of field through your choice of aperture. The depth of field is the range that appears to be sharp in front of and behind where you focused.  Choose carefully depending on whether you want a deep or shallow depth of field.  A low f/number yields a shallow depth of field. A high f/number yields a deep depth of field. This is something you should think about in every shot you take because you are in control. Don’t let the camera decide for you. It is just a machine. It has no idea what you want unless you tell it, by controlling the aperture.

Lesson 4
Change your perspective.

Sometimes it is good to just stop looking at the world the same way you always see it. Change your position and angle. Mix it up a bit. Look up.  Look down. Look behind you. Raise your camera way up high. Put it down on the ground. Sometimes that change in perspective will lead to a shot you would have missed.

Lesson 5
Light is ultra important.

Pay attention to details about the qualities of light including angle, direction, number of light sources, light ratio, diffusion, reflection, shadows, etc. A photograph is created by light. It is the most important ingredient in any photograph. Better light leads to better photographs. Master lighting techniques and I can guarantee your photographs will improve. That is true whether you are in control of the light using flashes/speedlights or shooting with natural light. You can’t really control the light in nature, but you can come back to a location at a different time of day or time of year and the light will be different.

Lesson 6
Practice, practice, practice.

There is no substitute for practice.  Keep taking pictures.  Assess the results. Make mistakes and learn from them. Just keep shooting. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Take classes. Learn more. Do more and your photographs will improve. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Yes, there is more to it…

I could keep going, but this is all for now.  Post processing your images (editing on the computer) is also quite important to add the finishing touches to take your photos from “good” to “great,” but it all starts with what you do with your camera. Get that right first.

Happy Picture Taking,
Kevin Gourley