How To Take Photos of Fireworks

Happy Fourth of July!

I just came back from an awesome and regenerating 14 miler on the Charles River.  I was feeling really good and even though it was starting to get humid already at 7 AM I averaged a 7:50 pace.  I love to run along the Charles, to me  it’s simply a magnificent place to run!   The Charles River goes on for miles; stretching from the Esplanade, all the way thru Cambridge, Watertown to a wonderful nature preserve in Waltham.  This morning, along the banks of the Charles River it was particularly entertaining as there were hundreds of people marking their spots spreading their tarps and blankets as close to the Hatch Shell as possible for tonight’s Boston Pops concert and the amazing fireworks.

Have you ever tried to take a photo of bright colorful fireworks only to be disappointed with dark, blurry images?   I did!  But let me tell you that despite the challenging condition (nighttime and bright moving light), I am going to show you that it’s actually pretty easy to photograph fireworks as long as you follow some simple steps.  First of all, I am not a professional photographer or anything like that but photography is another passion of mine.  I took one class to learn more about my SLR Nikon D40x but the rest has been self-taught through taking photos, books and tutorial.  Last year I was determined to take good photos of the 4th of July fireworks in Boston.  So, Dustin and I biked to the Charles River from our home in Cambridge and found an incredible spot where I set up my camera that was attached to the gorillapod wrapped around a railing along the river overlooking the city.  I was amazed by how easy it was and how spectacular the results were.  In manual mode just follow this few tips:

  • Use a Tripod or a Gorillapod.  The best way to keep your camera still is with a tripod but a gorillapod is good too and easy to transport.  The most important thing to remember is to secure your camera to something that will make sure it will move during the taking of your shots. This is particularly important in night photography simply because you’ll be using longer shutter speeds which will not only capture the movement of the fireworks but any movement of the camera itself.
  • Flash Off.  In almost all fireworks photography, you should keep the flash turned off.
  • Use an aperture of f/8 to f/16.  I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well.
  • Focus on infinity.  Turn off autofocus settings.
  • Select a low ISO.   An ISO setting of 100 is a good choice.
  • Slow Shutter Speed.  This is the most important camera setting you’ll need to worry about.  You’ll have to leave your shutter open for a long time to capture the whole show.  Fireworks are just a bunch of bright points of light. What makes them interesting is how their quick motion across the night sky illuminates a path and creates beautiful streaks and patterns.  But you need to give your camera a chance to record those patterns, you need to make sure your shutter is open long enough to get them in. That means at minimum a full second, and possibly up to 15 seconds or more.  I usually experiment with different durations to see what works best.
  • Find a great location ahead of time.  Look for a place with an unobstructed view of the sky.  Watch out for trees, buildings or anything that could block your view.  Look for landmarks or other interesting things you can use to make your compositions more appealing.  Avoid street lights and other light sources that will ruin your pictures.  Keep the Fireworks in front of you, not above you.
  • Shoot a lot.  Experiment, and take tons of photos. Remember, you can always delete the bad one later=)
  • Shoot early in the show to avoid all of the smoke toward the end.
  • Have fun.  Enjoy the show and the moment.
Here is some of my photo from last year fireworks:

ISO 100 | f/6.3 | SS 1/10

ISO 100 | f/6.3 | SS 1/10

ISO 100 | f/6.3 | SS 1/10

ISO 100 | f/6.3 | SS 1/10

On Saturday night we went to see the fireworks in Lexington,MA and even though the location wasn’t great I was able to take few nice shots. Here is one of my photo.

ISO 100 | f/13| SS 1/5

Have fun & shoot lots!  Be safe and have a great Fourth of July!

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