Camera Settings for Shooting Fireworks

by on July 4, 2013

in Learn

Fireworks 1

Whether you are out on a dedicated mission or on a family outing celebrating a holiday, getting a great shot of a fireworks show is a nice feeling. While there are many different ways to capture fireworks, there are a few basic starting points for those who have never nailed that fireworks shot.

Check out these quick tips below.

1. Use a Tripod

Preferably, you will be using a sturdy tripod that is fitting to support the camera and lens combo you are using. For those on a budget, the Slik 700DX Pro is a robust and very affordable option. A basic ball head or 3-way pan/tilt head will allow you to get your camera in position. I’m a big fan of Vanguard and Manfrotto heads.

That said, any tripod is better than no tripod. If you have to pick up one at Wal-mart or a drug store, do so. You can find super cheap ones around $20. They are nearly throwaway models; however, like I was saying, a crappy tripod is better than no tripod.

2. Use Manual Mode

That doesn’t mean you have to use a pro-level DSLR – many compact cameras have a manual exposure setting will allow you to get some decent shots. Depending on the effect you want to get out of the night time shots of fireworks, you will need the ability to independently adjust shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings.

3. Start With These Settings

I like a wide-angle shot for most fireworks scenes. So, try the zooming all the way out to 24mm or wider (18mm on a DSLR with 18-55mm lenses). Frame the shot to capture the ground to sky range where the fireworks will detonate.

Set your camera to:

  • ISO 100
  • f/16
  • 4 seconds

Adjust to taste.

Remember, the longer the exposure, the longer the light trails and the more fireworks you will see in each frame. However, this can be overdone if the fireworks start stacking up on top of each other in the frame. You will end up with a big white ball of light in the frame if you leave the exposure open for too long.

Shutter speed is your main tool for change the way fireworks appear in images. However, if you have foreground objects or scenery, you can vary the depth of field by changing the aperture.

Because you are in manual exposure mode, you will need to adjust other settings to correspond with the changes you make on one setting. Learn more about  shutter speedISO and aperture.

Fireworks 2

4. Set Focus Manually

Turn off autofocus and do the focusing yourself. You are going to be shooting the same scene over and over and over again. Focus using the manual focus controls for your camera. Chances are that you can find something near the ground in the area the fireworks will launch from and focus on that. Once you have your focus set, you are ready to go.

Fireworks 4

Even if you are zooming in on the fireworks and shooting up in the sky, you can still focus on objects on the ground near where the fireworks are launching.

5. Use a Remote or Timer

Use a remote if you have one. You can find cheap ones for both Canon and Nikon, or pretty much any other brand if you dig around. Check out the variety of remotes here at B&H Photo.

If you don’t have a remote, most recent digital cameras feature a 2-second timer release. By enabling this timer, you can press the shutter button and have plenty of time to get your hand away from the camera while any vibrations from your hand settle before the shutter opens and exposure begins.

6. Use Mirror Lock-up or Live View (if available)

If you have a DSLR, you can further reduce vibrations by capturing images in mirror lock-up mode or live view mode. In each of these modes, the mirror is already lifted and internal vibrations have settled when the shutter is opened.

7. Keep Shooting

You can vary your settings to taste throughout the fireworks show, but you should keep shooting plenty of images. It is challenging to time a shutter release just right so that you capture the fireworks detonation just right. With a little practice throughout the show, you’ll get better at guessing the release point just in time for the finale.

Fireworks 5

If you know your exposure looks good, don’t stop to admire the images on your LCD. You can do that when you get home. Just keep shooting so you don’t miss a decisive moment.

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{ 3 comments }

1 LIGHTRAE July 5, 2013 at 1:23 am

I also like to shoot hand-held, using a 300mm, f/2.8 prime and stop-action shutter speeds to capture detailed individual burst and control the length of light trails.
Manual setting Tv &Av, manual pre-focusing to get correct distance and metering on a bright light source all apply.
However, my best technique, whether tripod mounted or hand-held, is listening to the detonations and, where possible, watching the faint upward trail of each bomb.
This lets me pick, with some accuracy, the displays that I want to capture.
The launch-charge detonation is nearly as loud as the bomb detonation so the loudest launches signal the biggest bombs.
There is a time delay that can be several seconds between launch and burst. I get the timing by simply counting it off: launch, 1,2,3 …… click.

2 PHOTO_CURMUDGEON July 5, 2013 at 7:32 am

GREAT advice for NEXT year…… think I’ll save this week’s PHOTOGRAPHY BAY newsletter, since the 4th was yesterday!!!!

3 Robert Abreu July 6, 2013 at 12:54 am

Thanks for the tips. Have used similar exposures and they work. Patience is a must.
Happy shooting, Bob Canon 7d, many lenses, and 5 tipods and monopod.

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