Five steps for photographing fireworks

It’s time to pack up your picnic blanket and KFC to watch your Fourth of July fireworks, but this time, why not also grab your camera and tripod to get some epic fireworks photos? Just follow these steps to capture some amazing memories of the beautiful bursts. One way to make nice long, colorful light trails, is to keep a longer shutter speed and medium to wide aperture. You also want to keep the sky as dark as possible to provide nice contrast for your color.


1. TRIPOD: Set up your camera on a tripod, angle your camera as needed, then zoom in to frame the bursts.
2. MANUAL MODE:  Try this range of settings in manual mode. You will need to vary it depending on your lighting and distance:  Aperture: f/4-8;  Shutter Speed: 5-8″ (seconds); ISO: 100.  (see below)
3. MANUAL FOCUS: Lock your focus on infinity (all the way out) and turn your focus to Manual (MF, not AF). If you are using a DSLR, you will usually find your MF option on your lens. (NOTE: Most point-and-shoots have a fireworks scene mode that works nicely, so you won’t need to know any of this)
4. TIMER OR REMOTE WITH BULB SETTING:  For tack-sharp images, you need to avoid the camera shake that comes when you press the shutter, so set your self-timer for a 2 seconds delay. Or better yet, if you have a remote to trigger the shutter, set your shutter speed to BULB and you can sit back and time your exposures to fit the bursts. Just hit the remote once to open the shutter, then hit it again to close the shutter. You can control the precise amount of light this way. If you have too much light, try holding a black card in between bursts of light.
5. PRACTICE:  Take dozens of shots and fine-tune the three basic elements of any shot:  Light – Focus – Composition


Adjust your aperture and shutter speed to get a dark sky with nice, long light trails. Your exact settings will vary depending on your distance, ambient light, clouds, wind, time of night, location, number of bursts, and night sky. You will need to lengthen your shutter speed as the night sky gets darker. During the first part, you will get more blue in the sky (I refer to this time period as the blue hour.) You may reduce this lingering effect of the sunset, by reducing your shutter or stopping down your aperture.

Also, when they are sending up multiple bursts at the same time, the sky will be brighter, so you may need to shorten your shutter speed. By leaving your shutter open for 5″+, you will have a better chance to get your timing right to capture the burst, so this is why you must leave your ISO at 100, so you don’t get too much light. If you have a lot of light around you, you may have to change your shutter speed to 3″ to keep the sky dark enough, and then experiment with your aperture to balance the light. (Or try my trick of holding a black card in front of the lens in between bursts.) The other factor that makes shooting fireworks tricky is the lack of wind. It takes a little breeze to keep the smoke moving out of your way. Otherwise you will get too much smoke and haze.

Of course, you’ll probably get the perfect settings, just about when they finish the show!  Haha… not really. With these steps, you should be getting great stuff within the first few explosions. Here are some images I took in Island Park of fireworks over the Island Park Reservoir:  Have a great Fourth of July celebration!

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Finale

Finale: Aperture: f/8.0; Shutter: 3″ ISO: 100 – Caryn Esplin – Fireworks – Island Park, Idaho

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Purple Solo

Purple Solo – 10:59pm: Aperture: f/8.0; Shutter: 3″ ISO: 100 – Caryn Esplin – Fireworks – Island Park, Idaho

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Double Burst

Double Burst – 10:36pm: Aperture: f/4.0; Shutter: 8″ ISO: 100 – Island Park, ID – 7-2-12

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Pink Smoke

Pink Smoke – 10:37pm: Aperture: f/4.0; Shutter: 8″ ISO: 100

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Star Trail - Island Park, ID - 7-2-12

Star Trail – 10:22pm: Aperture: f/6.3; Shutter: 5″ ISO: 100

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Fiber Optics - Island Park, ID - 7-2-12

FIber Optics – 10:16pm: Aperture: f/8.0; Shutter: 5″ ISO: 100

Caryn Esplin - Fireworks - Multiple Burst -  Island Park, ID - 7-2-12

Multiple Burst – 10:20pm: Aperture: f/8.0; Shutter: 5″ ISO: 100


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