How to Photograph Fireworks
Fireworks are certainly one of the biggest festive attractions that are used worldwide to mark all kinds of celebrations and important events. So, it’s no wonder that they can also serve as a subject for some really dramatic looking photos.
They also aren’t the easiest to photograph if you’re just starting out and have no previous experience with shooting fireworks. So, we’ve decided to compile a simple guide that will help you choose the best gear for the job, learn about the exposure settings you should use and also, fine tune your photos in editing software.
We’ve also added a few tips and tricks, as well as some ideas you could follow when it comes to achieving the right composition and capturing photos that will show a lot more than just the fireworks themselves and help you get images with even more character and depth.
Which gear should you use?
First of all, you’ll need to invest in a camera body. While a high quality fixed lens point and shoot camera will surely be capable of shooting fireworks, we would recommend that you obtain at least an entry level DSLR or a mirrorless camera to get the best results in terms of image quality.
There’s also a matter of choosing the right type of a lens. Depending on the type of system you decide to go with, make sure that you get a zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent focal length that’s at least 28mm wide and can zoom in to at least 50mm.
That kind of lens will give you the right level of flexibility to perfectly adjust your framing, no matter the position you’re photographing the fireworks from. Also, don’t worry too much about the maximum aperture of the lens, since you’ll be shooting at darker apertures anyway.
Is stability important for photographing fireworks?
Yes, the use of a tripod is mandatory if you’re interested in getting sharp and blur-free photos of fireworks. It will enable you to use slower shutter speeds as well as get images that are straight and lined up with the horizon.
Alternatively, you could also use a monopod if you find yourself in a very crowded area where it would be impossible to set up a tripod. You could also try to rely on your camera’s stabilization, be it the in-body or the lens based solution, but we would only recommend going down that route if you’re sure that your hands are still enough.
Using a tripod for shooting fireworks also makes sense from a composition standpoint. In ideal conditions, you will find a perfect location to capture the entire show and you won’t have to change the angle of your camera or your focal length after the initial setup.
How to get the best composition
The key to getting the best possible photos of fireworks is to make sure that you’re well aware of the location you’ll be shooting from and that you find yourself in a nice position to set up your gear before the show starts.
The first thing you should do is to explore your surroundings. Find out where the fireworks themselves are located and take into consideration that you’ll need to distance yourself enough from their location to get their effects into your frame. Look for a position that won’t be too crowded during the show, so you can operate your camera more comfortably.
It’s also a good idea to decide on the focal length you’ll be shooting with in advance. Take a few test shots from your chosen position and decide how much of the surroundings you want to capture in your photos, instead of entirely focusing on the sky and the fireworks.
Give your images some context and try to tell a story. Capture the city lights, the reflections in the water or even the crowd. Also, try to experiment with shooting vertical photos if you can and if the fireworks cover a smaller area. All of this will give more depth to your photos and make them stand out even more.
Picking the right exposure settings
The first thing you should take care of before playing around with shutter speed is the aperture and ISO values. Keep your ISO at your camera’s lowest base value, which will be 80 or 100 for most large sensor cameras and 200 for Four Thirds mirrorless cameras.
Set the aperture to f/8 or f/11 as it will be enough to handle the brightness of the fireworks but also allow your lens to reach its peak sharpness. Also, as a side note, be sure to enable the RAW format so you’ll be able to make more effective adjustments in post processing and also, don’t forget to disable the flash, if your camera has one built in.
Now, when it comes to shutter speeds, you’ll need to experiment a little to get them right. The general rule is to use slower shutter speeds to capture the fireworks in motion and make them look like they are painting the skies.
Depending on the length of a single firework, sometimes it will only take a couple of seconds to capture the shot and sometimes noticeably longer than that. Play around with different shutter speeds and you’ll quickly find the values that you need.
Also, use remote shooting if your camera supports it, either via the release cable, a single button remote or with the help of a smartphone application. This will allow you to operate the camera more quickly and avoid any risk of camera shake caused by physically pressing the shutter button.
Tips for post processing your photos of fireworks
Since bright lights and colors are a big part of the appeal brought on by fireworks, it makes sense to make them look right in your photos and give them a vivid, contrasty and lively look if one wasn’t already achieved during shooting.
Feel free to play around with all the colors and their temperature and intensity. Increase the saturation and the contrast if necessary to give the images some additional pop and to make the bright parts of the photo stand out more from the dark sky.
Also, make sure to increase the exposure of your photos to make sure that the fireworks and the rest of the lights show their glow and feel just like in real life. This is in case you end up with any underexposed images that still have enough information in them that can be salvaged.
The dynamic range of your camera will play a big role here in terms of the amount of room you’ll have to raise and correct those bright areas and this is also why shooting at low ISO values is a good idea, since higher ISO values have a negative impact on dynamic range.
So, while photographing fireworks isn’t a very complicated process, it is one that takes some practice and patience. We’ve provided you with all the necessary info to get you started and all you have to do is find the next celebration close to you and explore all the possibilities around you.
Try to find the right spot that will let you work in peace and also capture the entire scope of the fireworks themselves. Take as many photos as you can and don’t be afraid to fill up your memory card. Be sure to use a tripod for maximum stability. Lastly, don’t forget to shoot in RAW and make a habit out of it, you’ll thank us later.