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Firework Photography 101

With the 4th of July holiday upon us this weekend, I thought I would answer one of the more frequently asked questions I have received over the years.


How do you take picture of fireworks?


I am always more then happy to share because I was asking this question of others a few years ago myself.


Firework photography is actually pretty simple. Honestly. Becoming an effective fireworks photographer is less about skill and more about understanding how to let the camera do the work for you and putting your equipment in position to succeed.



1) Camera and Lens - Your camera does not have to be anything fancy, in fact you can achieve success with a point and shoot. One of my favorite fireworks shots from a peer is from a point and shoot.

2) Tripod - Must Have - Fireworks photography is long exposure photography in short bursts requiring exposures longer than 3 seconds all the way up to 13 minutes.

3) Shutter Release - A shutter release used to trigger the shutter is a must to open and keep open the shutter during a long exposure. Touching the camera will produce shake and blurry photos and use of the timed exposures is inconsistent.



1) Neutral Density Filters - This is not for the first timer at fireworks photography but Neutral Density Filters when added to your lens will allow for longer exposures at higher F Stops with better highlight control. Again this technique is 300-400 level.


Location, Location, Location


I believe that isolated fireworks bursts in the sky are quite bland and lack story. Integration to the scene and proper composition is everything. After all, fireworks add drama when they are part of a larger landscape. Scout your location, get there early, and draw in plenty of foreground to add drama and scale(see below).


The Technique

1) Set your camera to Manual (or Bulb). You will need to be able to start and stop and hold open your frame for anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds. Bulb or manual mode will allow for this. Consult your cameras manual.

2) ISO - Set your ISO to a low ISO (ISO 100, 200). Allows for longer exposures and deeper colors.

3) F-Stop / Aperture – Set your F-Stop / Aperture to F11 or higher

3) Manual Focus - Turn off the auto focus feature on your lens, your camera will be "hunting" for something to focus on. (see below)

4) Set depth of field on your lens to Infinity to have your frame in focus. Not sure what that is… it look like this ∞ (see below)

5) Use your shutter release to open and close the shutter with times between 3-5 seconds, perhaps higher. With exposures over 5 seconds you will risk over exposure so adjust your F-Stop to offset the highlights associated with long exposures.


That’s it…


Through this technique you will steady the camera, keep the shutter open, and capture the launch / explosion of the shell. And capture magical photos.


Post processing with be another lesson at a later day.


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Taken on July 5, 2009