Ask a photog – Fireworks!

Happy Fourth of July!

What better way to celebrate our country’s rich history then by blowing things up! Fireworks spark more than patriotism and emotion – they can also ignite a bit of frustration for photographers! Here are a few tips to help you get some remarkable photographs of fireworks this Fourth of July.

Shooting Fireworks

LOCATION  Those real estate agents have something there.

Stake your spot out EARLY! Other people are nice to be around but you don’t want their bobbing heads in your photograph. Find a place away from people, or get your camera high enough or aim it high enough to avoid them. Figure out where the fireworks will be and point your camera that way. It’s always a good idea to be upwind!

FRAMING  Take some time to set up your composition before the show.

First, you probably want to point your camera so it includes the sky. ;P Look at your horizon & make sure it is straight {or however you like it ;)}. Decide if you want to shoot horizontal or vertical – you can always switch things up, but you want to be ready for that first firework! Look around you. Is there an interesting building, body of water or landscape you want to include in your photo? At some point, try including some people in your photograph … you can get some interesting silhouettes of your friends this way. Remember, you probably won’t see their faces – this isn’t the time for a family photo. Most importantly, take some test shots! Remember if you don’t like it in your camera, you won’t like it at home either.

TRIPOD   Stable, so you don’t have to be.

Tripods help you keep your composition so you don’t have to worry about it during the show. Since you’ll most likely spend your time looking at the sky. This way you don’t have to glue your face to your camera. With a tripod you have a lot more freedom to make long exposures. Your tripod also makes you look professional and serious. {That’s just a perk.}

Set your camera to MANUAL MODE!

OK, so I’m going to get a little “techie” on you!

ISO  This simply means the speed your camera takes in light.

You want to set your ISO to the LOWEST number possible ISO 100 or 200 is great Your camera will automatically want to shoot at a high ISO because it is so dark. You don’t want to do this. A high ISO will give you really pixilated and “grainy” blacks. Trust me – the fireworks are bright enough to show up.

APERTURE How much light you let in (otherwise known as the hole in your lens)

Any aperture between F5.6 & F11 will work.You really don’t need a low aperture and fast lens, those fireworks are darn bright!

SHUTTER SPEED How long your shutter is open & why you need the tripod.

For the best fireworks shots you’re going to want to leave your shutter open for  1 – 4 seconds. You may have a setting for this speed. If you don’t check your manual for “bulb” shooting.  This lets you manually hold the shutter open for as long as you like. If you’re a real geek (like me) try using a timer or a cable release. The movement of your hand can also cause camera shake. For the luddites, if you’re brave you can try your self timer … you might miss the shot so be warned!


Set your camera to infinite focus in manual mode. It sure is dark and if your camera is on auto it’s going to have trouble finding something to focus on.


Turn it off! Or cover it with black electrical tape. You don’t need it and it might trick your camera into thinking it needs a shorter exposure time.

TIMING   Timing is everything with comedy … and fireworks.

Try to catch the earliest fireworks. Fireworks are smoky and the longer you wait into the display the more smoke you’ll have. When you see the firework snakes going into the sky – get ready!


Most of you are shooting digital, so have fun! It doesn’t cost you anything to shoot like a maniac. Move around, try a different angle or view. Play with your settings (aperture and shutter speed) and see if you can’t find something cool. If you have a camera with pre-settings like “fireworks”, “nighttime” or “sunsets” try them out. I hate to admit it, but sometimes our cameras are even smarter then we are and produce excellent result on their own.  Read your manual!

If you still aren’t getting what you want, don’t worry! Just sit back relax and enjoy the fireworks display on its own. Or better yet, give your camera to a friend and tell them to shoot it for you!

I’m certainly excited about the Fourth and we’ll put up some of our photos too. I love my country and I really love any excuse to eat hamburgers and stay up late.

 Good luck! *heidi

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