Guest post by Justin McKee
People love fireworks. They’re beautiful, brilliant displays of light that make everyone gather together and bring smiles to faces already filled with awe at the color and complexity of what is essentially the sky exploding.
Photographers love fireworks too, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll never want to turn down the chance to take fireworks photos. But if you’re not sure how or where to start, this is the post for you.
Here’s how I shoot fireworks photography.
The show usually doesn’t begin until after dark, so I usually gather up my DSLR and tripod and find a good place to sit. Composition matters, so be sure to find a place that will compliment your shot.
Next, make sure you pack a wide angle lens if you’re going to be close to the fireworks. Those explosions are far-reaching, so you’ll want to make sure everything fits in frame.
So darkness falls and the show begins… what do you do now?
Well, hopefully you’ve prepared your settings ahead of time. Here are my recommendations for camera settings.
Let’s start with ISO: You want a clean image and you won’t really need to stretch the sensor due to the amount of light that’s about to appear… so stick to a low ISO. Below 500 will do.
Aperture is a no-brainer. Keep it wide open. Below f/4 is my suggestion, but you can get away with f/5.6 if needed.
And shutter speed; The most important point here. I usually set it for about 10 seconds. This allows for a few fireworks to go off during the time of the exposure and fill your frame with excitement and will give the photo viewer a similar sense of awe that they would have in person.
Obviously you can change your shutter speed depending on your situation. If the sun hasn’t fully set yet and the show begins early, you’ll want a faster shutter speed to avoid overexposure. Also, this is optional, but a shutter release remote will help limit camera shake. The less physical contact you have with your camera while shooting in low light the better. No shaky photos.
For focus: I usually set my lens to close to infinity in the focus window, but if you don’t have the luxury of a focus window simply focus on the area you know the fireworks will be coming from and turn your autofocus switch OFF. It’s useless here. Don’t do it.
One last thing: don’t bank on the grand finale being your best shots… many times the finale is a concentration of fireworks all in the same place and it can end up just looking like a giant white sun floating in the sky. If you’re trying for the finale, shorten your shutter speed to around 1/40-1/100. There’ll be plenty of light.
That’s it! Enjoy this fun and easy method of photography. It’s relaxing and very rewarding. Happy Fourth!
PS: For fun… move your focus all the way back to minimum for some cool bokeh balls. It makes for a pretty desktop background. Just sayin’. Enjoy!
Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.