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How to photograph fireworks.

Like most things photographic, the process you use to photograph fireworks varies with the camera you have. The best cameras for photographing fireworks will have both manual exposure and a method of remotely opening the shutter. Less capable cameras - especially compact cameras will be more limited. I will present the best procedure for each type of camera here.

DSLRs, Mirrorless, and some compact cameras have manual exposure modes, but not all of these have a method of remotely controling the shutter. So you may have to workaround this a bit.

Regardless of which camera you have, first and foremost, you need a tripod. And if your camera has a remote shutter control, either wired or wireless, you will need a remote switch or infrared remote.

Method: There are two methods I like to use, I will call them "Real Time" and "Timed Shutter". Each method provides different results, and I encourage you to try both methods if your equipment is capable of doing so.

In "Real Time", you open the shutter as soon as you see the launching of the missle, then close the shutter after the burst. In "Timed Shutter" you open the shutter for a pre-determined amount of time, and capture whatever activity occurs.

To do "Real Time" your camera must have a "bulb" mode and a remote trigger option, such as a wireless IR or wired remote. While a few compact cameras have a wireless IR remote (such as the Nikon Coolpix P7700) they may not have a bulb mode.

Bulb mode in a camera is when the shutter opens on your command; either closing the wired remote switch (or depressing the IR remote switch), and stays open until you let go of the wired remote switch (or depressing the IR remote switch again). If your camera does not have this feature, you can only to a "Timed Shutter.

Setting up for the shot

Step 1: Setup the camera on a tripod, and connect the wired remote if you are using one.

Step 2: Put the camera into Manual exposure mode.

Step 3: Set the lens Aperture for f/8 to start (you may need to adjust this later).

Step 4: Set the ISO to the lowest your camera supports.

Step 5: Set the focus to Manual, focus to infinity, then back off just a bit.

Step 6: Set the shutter speed to BULB if you are using "Real Time" mode or 8 seconds (or more) if you are using "Timed Shutter" mode.

If you set the focus point to infinity, you will be losing some Depth of Field. Remember that Depth of Field occurs before and after the focus point, and you cannot have Depth of Field beyond infinity. Therefore, if you focus to infinity, then back off just a bit, you maintain the maximum Depth of Field.

Of course, if you have an object in front of the fireworks you want to capture, you will have to set the focus point on that object, then adjust the aperture to maintain Depth of Field so that the fireworks stay in focus.

Taking the shot

If you are using the Real Time method, simply wait for the launch of a rocket and open the shutter with the remote, and leave it open until the fireworks burst. This will result in some very interesting and sometimes dramatic photos.

Jerry Garcia?

Palm Trees


The Crab

When using this technique, the shutter speed is arbitrary and variable as you are using bulb mode. The only control over proper exposure is to vary the aperture. Start at f/8, and increase or decrease the aperture as needed to maintain a proper exposure.

Timed Shutter: In this mode, you set the shutter speed to an arbitrary value; usually 8 to 120 seconds. Start at 8 seconds and adjust the time and aperture as necessary to ensure proper exposure. If your camera does not support a remote shutter, use the camera's 2 second remote timer. Using remote control ensures you do not shake the camera by touching it.

If you have a compact camera, this is the only mode you can use, and you may only be able to use a "Fireworks Scene Mode".

Multi-burst 1

Multi-burst 2

In the first photo - "Multi Burst 1", there are over 25 individual bursts. This was achieved by using a 120 second open shutter. And I had to use a ND16 filter to keep from overexposing the scene with such a long open shutter.

The second photo - "Multi-Burst 2" was taken with a 8 second shutter.

Enhanced Techniques

Don't be afraid to experiment. One techique I tried was to run the zoom out half way through the fireworks burst, which provided an interesting result:

As you will find out, when using your camera's manual mode, once you dial in the correct exposure, and then the grand finale happens, you will likely severly overexpose the photos - since there is a lot more light being generated during the final event. So you will constantly need to monitor what is going on and adjust accordingly.

Another technique that is often done - if you do not have access to a ND filter (if your camera has no filter threads), or if you are getting too dark of a photo with one, is to use a black piece of cardboard and cover up the lens between bursts. when doing this, obvously you will be leaving the shutter open, and uncovering the lens only when you want to "print" that burst to your photo.

Final Thoughts: Like most forms of creative photography, don't be afraid to experiment. Try things that are unconventional, who knows - you might be lucky. My favorite fireworks photo is "The Crab", and I didn't even notice it until I viewed it on my computer.

Sorry for the watermark on the photos, but they are copywrited, and to prevent theft, it is necessary to watermark them.