How To Shoot Fireworks

The 4th of July is coming: that means BBQ’s, fireworks, and lots of picture taking. You’re not the average person that just likes taking snapshots of everything and gets mediocre photos to share with their friends. You’re the type that will take lots of pictures, pick the best of the bunch and publish them. You may even sell them. Here’s how to ensure that your images of the fireworks this 4th of July stand out from other people’s.

Have Lots of Memory Cards and Backups

This is important. You’ll be shooting lots of long exposure shots and your timing will not always be perfect because of how long each set of fireworks lasts. So bring extra memory cards. More than that, make sure that these images are backed up onto a good hard drive of some sort. I had a Western Digital that only worked via USB port. When it stopped working, I lost all my images of fireworks from last years 4th of July. Even worse–they were around South St Seaport when the waterfalls were underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. So always back up your images because fireworks like this rarely happen.

Arrive early, Scout the Locations and Prepare

If there is anything that being a photographer shooting big, jam packed events will teach you it is to arrive to your location early. This way, no one is bugging you while shooting, getting in your way or taking the spot that you want in order to get your shots. Perhaps talk to the crews if you can and ask them to suggest the best places to setup your vantage point. Explain to them exactly what you’re going for in your images. Perhaps you’d love wide shots or maybe images of the fireworks going straight up into the air: each vantage point will allow you different types of images and therefore give off different feelings to your viewers.

Bring a Tripod

I’m the first photographer that will tell you to ditch a tripod. Being a tech journalist/photographer/videographer I can tell you how much your back will hurt from lugging around 50lbs or more of gear from location to location in New York City. However, in some situations it can be worth it to have one–this is one of them. You’re taking long exposures at night, you’re in an event where you will probably elbow-to-elbow with other people jumping around and sticking their point-and-shoots into the air trying to achieve the same type of image quality that you have, and there will be lots of chaos. The images coming from your DSLR should not shot evidence that you are in chaos because there is motion blur on your part. Rest it down on a tripod and securely fix it in a way that people won’t bump into it if you can.

If you want to switch locations, keep the camera on the tripod and move to your new setup location.

Long Exposure Settings, Lowest ISO Setting and Infinity Focus

Lexie writing her name

As I’ve stated before, this is your best bet to get the images that you want. Shooting around 4-10 seconds long with F11-22 should deliver the quality that you want. Obviously, you’re not using a flash as your flash will do nothing to help your images from that range. To get the cleanest image quality without banding or grain, you may want to go for ISO 100-400. Additionally, use the method of focusing that video professionals use: zoom in, focus perfectly on the subject and then zoom out to compose your shot.

You’ll go home with dreamy, colorful images that will astound people.

Get it Right the First Time Around

Take the images correctly while the event is happening and don’t do much post-processing. Otherwise, you may risk having other photoshop wizards spot your production work. Keep in mind that this happened last year with the fireworks during the Olympics in China. Granted those were video images, but the same concept applies here.



  1. says

    We are not celebrating the 4th of July here (Israel) so I won’t have opportunity to shoot any fireworks anytime soon, but I do wish to congratulate all who do celebrate!
    Probably the photoblogs/flickr etc will be filled with fireworks shots, for the meantime, here are some “natural” fireworks from Israel :)

  2. says

    Beautiful pictures! I put info on my blog linking to your site, let me know if thats alright! If not, i can take it off. Thanks for the great tips though, i will certainly be checking back for more!

  3. says

    @ Ashley- Sure thing. Link all you want.

    @ Clayton- You’re referring to “Additionally, use the method of focusing that video professionals use: zoom in, focus perfectly on the subject and then zoom out to compose your shot.”

    In the video world, what you do to get your shot perfectly focused is you zoom in all the way (sometimes even using expanded focus settings) focus accurately and precisely on your subject then zoom out fully and recompose your shot. Recomposing may mean that you may want to keep your shot very wide or you may want to zoom in tighter based on your own preferences. All this depends on your Megapixels as well: a 15MP sensor will allow for tighter cropping than a 10MP sensor will in post-production.

    Hope that clears up any confusion.

  4. says

    Thanks for this: pretty much have been doing it this way with great results. The zoom in zoom out for focus though is a new tip i will try thanks again.