7 Tips for Photographing Fireworks this 4th of July

Smell that? It's the once yearly aroma of cut grass, processed meats and the aftermath of a lit firecracker. And as the sun sets on July 4th, you're probably gearing up for an evening of fireworks to celebrate America's independence (unless you a reading this in one of the hundreds of other countries around the globe and then it's just 7/4 and a regular weekend).

Some of you might be thinking about trying to capture the beauty of tonight's display with your camera. But to capture great firework photography, you'll need to follow some of these tips. Otherwise you'll be left with snapshots like everyone else fumbling with their iPhone in the dark.

1. You are going to need a tripod.

No getting around it if you're going to capture decent images of fireworks. Your shutter is going to be open for multiple seconds so you're going to need a tripod that can lock your camera down and won’t move during your shots. Use a solid tripod and appropriate tripod head that is rated to hold your camera's weight. 

2. Use a handheld shutter release cable.

Some cameras now have internal timers and intervelometer functions but when shooting fireworks you will want to use a shutter release cable that extends from your camera. You want to remove any and all movement from the camera during your exposure and countdown timers can cause you to miss the shot entirely. Using a cable release allows you to fire the camera on demand while eliminating physically touching the camera reducing the chance of shaking the camera during exposure.

3. Set your camera to bulb.

You can set your camera for a shutter speed between two and ten seconds but I like to shoot fireworks on bulb mode to allow me to manually open and close the shutter depending on the duration of a firework and how many I want to fill my frame. If there is one long trailing explosion, keep the shutter open for six or seven seconds. But if it's a burst of many fireworks, you might hold the shutter open for two or three seconds. Trying to change shutter settings in the dark during the actual firework display is not advised. 

ISO 100, f/8, 5 seconds.

4. Use a mid-range f-stop.

But its night so wouldn't I need to open my lens up all the way? No. While it is dark out, fireworks are very bright and to capture the color and variance in fireworks without filling your image with white streaks, using a higher f-stop allows you to achieve greater focus and keep light from other sources dim. A higher f-stop creates thinner light streaks and a lower f-stop creates thicker streaks.

5. Turn off auto focus.

Your camera needs light to focus and during the fireworks display the only time there will be light is when you'll want to be capturing a photograph, not setting focus. Try and set focus on the first explosion then keep your camera on manual focus. Consider taping down your focus ring for the rest of the night if you're worried about bumping it or if your focus tends to drift.

6. Claim your spot ahead of time.

Know where you're going to shoot from ahead of time. Have a general idea of where the firework display will take place in the night sky and point your camera there. Some places can get busy with people so being in position an hour or so in advance can be the difference between getting the shot and missing it. Plan what will be in your foreground as well. The best shots of fireworks happen in the first few minutes while the air is still clear. As the display goes on, smoke will form and can make for less spectacular images.

Photo by Jack Cotton - ISO 200, f/4, 10 seconds.

7. Make your images unique.

Firework photos are a dime a dozen. While technically somewhat challenging, they don't always offer a lot of variance from image to image. Experiment with your photos. Try and capture new parts of a scene. Fill your foreground with elements of context. Shoot before and after the display and try and give your photographs a feel of how it felt to be there.

Photo by Jack Cotton - ISO 3200, f/2.8, 1/60.

Following these tips will help you capture some great firework images this July 4th. Remember to experiment and adjust your settings to perfect your images. And finally remember to have fun, it's America's birthday after all.

Are you planning on shooting the night sky this weekend? Share your tips and images in the comments below and Happy 4th of July!


Fstoppers is having a Fireworks Photo Contest! 

How To Enter:

Anyone who is a member of the Fstoppers Community can enter into this contest.  Simply submit your best image(s) into the Fireworks Contest Post between July 1st through July 6th and the Fstoppers Staff will pick one lucky winner on July 8th.  The winner will win their choice of any Fstoppers produced tutorial in the Fstoppers Store.  Photographers can submit as many photos as they want.  If you aren't a member of the community yet, you can sign up for free here.  


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Lee Morris's picture

I think I shot fireworks once when I first got into photography. It may be time for me to give it another shot.

Adam Peariso's picture

Or tonight ;) #CanadaDay

Casey Berner's picture

Happy Canada Day to our friends in the north!

Tony Carter's picture

I would also suggest to talk to the security or the pyrotechnics personnel on-site to ask where exactly the fireworks will be shot from so that you can get a better idea for composition. Also, I've found to expose in Bulb mode (ISO: 100; Aperture: f/8 to f/16) ahead of time for the composition (buildings, field, surroundings), then varying the shutter longevity using Burst (or Motor Drive) mode during the show. Also also, there are free phone apps that you can use to remote trigger some most newer camera models, like Shutterbot.

Casey Berner's picture

All great tips Tony! I will have to check out this app!

Prefers Film's picture

If you're going to be up close to fireworks, consider eye protection. My one-eyed Harley mechanic reminds me how quickly things can go wrong when lighting rockets.

Somak Ray's picture

For Nikon DSLRs shut the Long Exposure Noise Reduction feature as it takes a long time to process each pic. and you'll miss too many pics if you keep this ON. I got good results by using an auxiliary flash-shoe viewfinder while the viewfinder goes dark.
I compiled some of my recoomendations on fireworks photography in my blog post:

J D's picture

I used these tips tonight to great result I think. The bulb mode really helped and was not something I would have even thought to try.

Casey Berner's picture

Make sure to share and enter the Fstopper's contest!

Adam Bender's picture

Great tips! Not that is this shot is the bee's knee's, but using the 6D multiple exposure setting (I chose 3 exposures) and hand holding with my 85mm I managed a few decent shots of my local Canada Day fireworks.

I guess I'm just saying that you shouldn't be discouraged if you can't accomplish all the recommended tips above.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I haven't shot any fireworks with my DSLR. What about white balance? Set it to daylight?
I have shot fireworks with ISO 400 film. I used a tripod; but the platform I shot from wasn't steady, so there is motion in the photographs. I was on a pontoon boat and the wind and the waves were adding motion to the photographs.
I didn't have a cable release at the time, so I used the self-timer delay of 10 seconds. I had the exposure time set for 30 seconds. When I though I had enough exposures, I would cancel the exposure time before 30 seconds.

Casey Berner's picture

As for white balance, I use daylight. Don't use auto.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Thanks. That's what I thought.