This coming weekend is Victoria Day here in Canada and the following is Memorial Day in the US (which I’ve just learnt isn’t a big fireworks holiday, so, American friends, you can just save these tips until the fourth of July) so I thought it would be nice to share a few tips for how to photograph fireworks. I know I’ve touched on fireworks photography in the past but I thought I’d go into a little more detail about how to get good results.
This turned out to be a bit of a lengthier post than I normally do, so I’ve put the basic tips in bold, so if you’re in a hurry you can just scan those, or if you’d like more information you can read further.
- Exposure Mode – First you’re going to need to change your camera so it’s on manual exposure mode, this will allow you to set and tweak your f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO as needed.
- F-Stop – Start with your f-stop set to F8, and if you find your images are too dark then decrease the number, or if you find they’re too light then increase the number.
- Shutter Speed – It’s best to set your shutter speed to bulb mode. This will keep your shutter open as long as you’re holding down the button. When using a long exposure like this you’ll also need to use a cable release because the simple act of pressing the button will often move your camera enough to make your photo blurry.
- ISO – Increasing the ISO number will increase the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor and make your photos brighter. But when it comes to ISO it’s best to know your camera. How is it in low light situations? The higher the ISO the more noise there will be in your photograph and the poorer the image quality will be. I have one camera that I don’t like to use higher than ISO 400, but on another I’m comfortable going to 1600. So just feel things out and look at past photos to see the quality. Your best rule of thumb here is to keep this number as low as possible and instead tweak your f-stop for proper exposure.
Because of the long exposure you’ll be using it’s super important to stabilize your camera with either a tripod or setting it on a solid surface. Tripods are big and bulky and I honestly hate carrying one everywhere I go, so I’ll often look for things I can set my camera on while I photograph. I usually prop mine up on the bag we bring that’s full of snacks and sweaters, but you can also use a beanbag.
I’m still constantly learning how to photograph fireworks. But now for the fun part! You’re going to want to experiment. A lot. You’ll need to play with your exposure so keep an eye on the back of your camera to make sure everything is as bright or as dark as it should be. You’ll also want to play with your vantage point since fireworks make a lot of smoke, so make sure it’s not completely ruining your photos. And don’t forget to play with your composition – watch out for things obstructing your view like people, trees, or buildings, keep an eye on where the fireworks are appearing in your photos, and try to get in close enough that the fireworks appear nice and big.
Relax and enjoy being creative! Happy celebrating!