How To Take Great Fireworks Photos – The Best Way

What you will need to take really great fireworks photos:

  • A camera with a bulb shutter setting
  • A cable release
  • A very sturdy tripod
  • A bonus is a camera that has a multiple exposure capability, although if you have a digital camera you may be able to add images together in Photoshop

Using a camera with a bulb setting on a tripod is the best way to photograph fireworks

You will be able to hold the shutter open while the fireworks are exploding and then close it when you feel it is time. Just using a real long shutter speed can cause any lights not from fireworks in your photo to overexpose. Being able to control the exact length of time the shutter is open will also allow you to time the exposure to get the best effect of the firework display.


What you will do is open the shutter with the release when you hear the firework launch

Hold the shutter open while it explodes (the fireworks, not the shutter) and release it when you feel it is done. You can also hold it open for a longer period of time to get the effect of several fireworks going off. The only trouble with keeping the shutter open longer is that you will start to overexpose other objects that may be in the photo.

If you can, and you can see where the fireworks are actually launched from, try to anticipate the launch and get the effect from the launch on the ground in the photo also

The launch may even cause a silhouette if there is a person actually lighting the fireworks off. Many are lit electronically or by a computer now so there may not be anyone near the launch.

If you have a camera with multiple exposure capability, you can get several displays in one frame

This will allow you to keep the overall exposure shorter since the shutter will only be open for the fireworks and not during any pause in between. Of course, if the fireworks are going off rapidly you will not need to have the shutter open long to get many in.

The interesting part is the time the shutter is open will not have too much effect on the exposure of the fireworks

The exposure for the fireworks will primarily be controlled by the aperture or f-stop of the lens. The shutter time may affect the exposure a little but unless a large number of fireworks are going off in a small area, the shutter will make little difference on the exposure of the fireworks.

You will need to set your aperture around f8 to f11

This is a little bit of a guessing game. Some fireworks will show up brighter in a photo (white or lighter colors especially). Some will be darker. You will need go experiment a little and bracket. This is only a guideline. You may also want to try f16.

I suggest you keep the ISO setting at 100 anytime you try to take firework photos

This will be fast enough to get a good aperture and keep grain (on film) to a minimum. Keeping it consistent will make it easier to reproduce great photos next time you photograph fireworks.

A film camera has an advantage over a digital camera for firework photos

A digital camera may need to use a noise reduction circuit when your exposures are long. This may take extra time between exposures. As exposure times get longer, noise will increase in a digital camera. Many noise reduction circuits make a second blank exposure after a long exposure to find out where the noise is to reduce it. This is why it may be a little slow between photos.

Of course, the advantage of using a digital camera is that you can check and see if the exposure is close

Use the preview screen as a guide. It can be a little misleading. It may look brighter to you in the dark than the actual photo is.

Also do not spend the entire show looking at your preview screen

You will miss the show. Once you see your exposure is ok concentrate on taking more photos. Either that or just enjoy the show yourself.

If it looks like the exposure is close for the fireworks, try to get some good photos of multiple fireworks

Remember, the background will get brighter as you keep the shutter open longer, so do not keep the shutter open too long. Depending on the aperture that works for the fireworks, 5-10 seconds will be as long as you will be able to keep the shutter open.

Choose a background for the fireworks

The trick to really beautiful firework photos is to have them combined with a great background. Ideally, try to place a local landmark in the composition. Unlit objects between you and the fireworks will be silhouetted. A shot of just the fireworks in the frame will not be as interesting as one that shows where the fireworks were photographed.

This guide should give you a great start to photographing fireworks. Enjoy the celebration and have a happy and safe 4th of July or whatever event you are celebrating.

About James Thoenes

James has spent most of his life involved in photography. He is now dedicated to producing portraits that his clients will treasure for the rest of their lives.