Photographing Fireworks

crowd watching fireworks display

If you want to take epic fireworks photography you came to the right place. In this article I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to photograph fireworks. I’ll also provide some tips that will help you get better results. There are two key areas I’ll focus on: camera gear and settings.

Firework Photography Gear

  1. Camera: You need a camera with manual settings and a decent sized sensor. I recommend something like the Sony a7II or Canon 6D. The reason for this is that you will be using very high shutter speeds which is best done on a camera with better low light performance than your smartphone. I’ll go into more detail below about what shutter speed to use when shooting fireworks.
  2. Lens: The lens is what will actually allow you to create the images you want. While it’s a good idea to bring multiple lenses, you don’t want to be switching between different ones as this will cause you to miss a lot of shots. The best lens for fireworks photography is usually a zoom lens with relatively fast glass (i.e: f2.8 at minimum). I would recommend something like the Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II or the Sony 70-200mm f2.8G. If you don’t have a zoom lens you could always switch between two primes of similar focal lengths to get the best results. I personally would not suggest using a prime unless you already have it and are coming to shoot fireworks for the first time.
  3. Tripod: A tripod is very important for shooting at higher shutter speeds. You are going to be using shutter speeds that are slower than you usually would. The reason for this is most fireworks are lit well in advance and then explode in the sky. As such, if you did a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the explosion, it would blur since there was movement built up in the milliseconds between you pressing the button and the fireworks exploding. I recommend something like a Manfrotto 450 Pro to get started and then upgrade to something like a Really Right Stuff XPRO-3 as you gain experience.
  4. Remote Shutter Release: You will want to be able to trigger the camera remotely in order to avoid any shaking or vibration caused by pressing the shutter button directly. This is vital to getting the best results. There are many different kinds of remotes you can use but I would suggest something like the Canon TC-80N3 or Sony RM-VPR1. These are both wired remotes but they work very well and have never given me any issues. Plus they have a lot of great features that will help you get better results when photographing fireworks (I’ll cover this below).

What Camera Settings To Use For Fireworks

Manual Mode: You want to be in Manual mode. You will need to set a wide aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

Wide Aperture: You want to set your aperture as wide as your lens supports. Most lenses start at f2.8 but a lot of budget options are going to start at f4. I would recommend shooting somewhere around f2.8 or f4 on most lenses unless you have the budget for larger glass (like the Canon EF 16-35mm). If you go wider than that then you will most likely encounter some issues with diffraction which can result in soft images, so be careful.

High ISO: You should be shooting at a high ISO when photographing fireworks. While it would be optimal to use a higher end camera with great low-light performance you are going to need something like ISO 6400 if you want to shoot at low shutter speeds. If you go much higher than that then the noise will start to get distracting and potentially ruin an image. I would suggest starting off at around ISO 6400 and then lowering it if you find the noise unruly.

Fireworks Photography Tips

  1. Find a Good Location: You will need to be at least 500 feet from the display for any of this to work. You ideally want to be much further away, especially if you are further than about 1000 feet away. The fireworks are going to be so bright that you won’t be able to capture any of the foreground or background unless you are further than maybe 2000 feet away (I’ve been that far back and gotten results as long as I can see the fireworks).
  2. Find a Safe Location: You want to be in a safe location. The last thing you want is to be photographing fireworks and have a drunk person run up and start pushing you or standing in front of you when the fireworks go off. It will ruin the shot and it will be potentially dangerous.
  3. Get a Remote Shutter Release: This is mentioned above but it’s worth stressing here. You will want a remote shutter trigger so that you aren’t shaking the camera when pressing the shutter button directly. It’s much easier to press a button on a remote than it is to physically press one on your body or in your hand.
  4. Shoot RAW: Shooting uncompressed RAW will give you the most latitude in processing your images later on. This gives you much more control over your image than shooting JPEG. This is especially true with fireworks where the motion can get distracting at times. Shooting RAW and doing some processing afterwards will make everything much cleaner and easier to work with.
  5. Light Painting: There is a technique called “light painting” that can help you shoot fireworks or art pieces that have a lot of movement involved. I’ve not tried this myself but it seems like it would definitely help with getting creative shots. The idea is that you take a photo and somehow manipulate the shutter speed or aperture before you press the shutter button in order to create the right kind of motion with your shot. There are things like Photoshop actions and apps that help you do this, so I recommend trying those out as well if you want to try light painting for yourself.

Bottom Line

Fireworks are an amazing thing to see and photographers should definitely grab their cameras for an opportunity like this if it presents itself. You will need to be patient and willing to work through some of the challenges that come with photographing fireworks. This article should help you get started, but be sure to let us know how your night goes in the comments!