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10 tips for photographing fireworks

How to capture the light show

We are fast approaching firework season and this is without a doubt a difficult shot to pull off. With that, here are 10 tips to help make every shot count!

1. Have the right kit for the job

It goes without saying you will need a sturdy tripod for this. Sure with OIS and IBIS you can handhold for longer than ever before, but how steady are you really? Another piece of equipment to consider is a remote shutter, the last thing you need is the camera to shake and wobble because you pressed the shutter button.

2. Keep that ISO in check

Contrary to what you might think, you won’t be needing a high ISO for shooting fireworks. Similar to shooting the moon (read how to HERE) the fireworks are much brighter than you might first realise. Set your ISO as low as possible (normally 100/200) to keep noise levels as low as possible.

3. Turn off in camera noise reduction

This manifests itself with multiple names (e.g. Long Exposure Noise Reduction) and should be turned off where possible. This normally works by taking a second photo of pure black (for the same length of time as your previous shot) and merges them together. This can help remove noise in the black areas of the night sky, however as fireworks happen so fast do you really want 10 seconds between shots?

4. Do not shoot wide open

Large aperture (e.g. f/1.4) lenses are great for making the most of low light levels, but this can be your worst enemy with fireworks. Let in too much light and the delicate light trails you are after become blinding lights and blow out your photo. Drop your aperture to around f/5.6-f/8. This will keep your light trails thin and also keeps everything sharp and in focus (explosions aren’t 2d after all).

5. Count to 3…

You want to catch more than just the initial pop of a firework, you want the trails and colours too. Do this by setting your shutter speed to somewhere between 2 and 10 seconds. The longer the shutter the longer the light trails, however the darker the photo will be. Cameras with a Bulb setting can have the shutter opened and closed manually with each press of the shutter button, making things easier. Some cameras (Olympus for example) even have the ability to show the image as it develops in Bulb mode, making it super easy to get excellent results.

6. Pin sharp focus

The last thing you want is the camera to try and focus each time you press the shutter button so focus manually ahead of time. This will take some practice however lenses with distance scales make this easier. Alternatively if you are far enough away, infinity focus (or near to) is a good place to start.

7. Don’t wait for the finale

With all the smoke produced during a large fireworks show don’t wait for the finale to begin shooting. Chances are that the smoke will blow in your direction (it always does) and will make clear photos of the light trails almost impossible.

8. Don’t be afraid to recompose

If you miss the first few fireworks don’t worry, recompose your shot and keep trying. Try shooting portrait if you are struggling with height or want to add a sense of scale such as people or the ground… it’s not often fireworks are wide and not high!

9. East is best, west for the rest

Unless you have tried you wouldn’t believe this, but the night sky is darker to the east. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Try and position yourself to the west of the display, the darker night sky will contrast with the fireworks better than when you are positioned to the east shooting west.

10. Remember fireworks are fun!

Fireworks are loud, bright and fun. Whether you get the perfect photo or forget your memory card remember to enjoy the show, fireworks are awesome!