Firework Photography Tips for Beginners and Beyond





Firework displays on the 4th of July are an American tradition. So are bad fireworks photos! Have you ever tried to capture a colorful explosion in the sky on film? It’s harder than it looks.

I saw on an infographic that said over 2,000 tweets were sent out last 4th of July demanding that people stop posting their bad fireworks photos! Apparently people had enough of grainy, blurry, photos of the fireworks with the backs of heads of the crowd in front illuminated by the flash.

I majored in photography, although it was back in the “dark room dark ages.” A good portion of my final portfolio was night photography. Even though the basics haven’t changed, I thought I’d reach out to an expert for tips, to help us create fireworks photos that will make our friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram “ooh and ahh.”

Blogger and photographer Tom Bricker from DisneyTouristBlog.com came to my rescue.  (He’s known for his stunning fireworks photographs at Disney.)  I asked him to share some tips with us; turns out, he’s literally co-written a book on the topic! (And he’s giving FatWallet members an exclusive coupon to get it for 50% off!) How cool is that?

Equipment:

DSLR or Point and Shoot Camera: Yea, I guess that one’s a given.

Tripod: You’ve got to be a Steady Betty when it comes to getting good results with low-light photography. Don’t let your photos look like you were shaking your groove thing while trying to capture them. Park that camera on a tripod!

Remote shutter release and/or timer on your camera: Another tool to help you avoid camera movement, by allowing you to take the photo without having to touch the camera.

Camera Settings:

Shooting Fireworks with a DSLR Camera:

The secret sauce to photography is light. How much light gets through to the camera’s sensor (or film). There are three things you can set on your DSLR when your camera is in manual mode to help you control that light:  f/stop (also called aperture), shutter speed, and ISO.

  • F Stop/Aperture: There’s no set rule on what to f/stop to use for photographing fireworks.  It will depend on the camera lens and fireworks show you’re shooting.  The higher the number, the more light is blocked from getting through to the sensor.

  • Shutter Speed: How quickly the shutter opens and closes determines how much light gets through.  In bright daylight, it’s a split second.  At night, you may need to leave it open 5-20 seconds depending on the amount of available light.  Experimentation is necessary.
  • ISO: In the old-days this was our film speed. There’s a great explanation of ISO on Digital Photography School if you like knowing how things work. In a nutshell the lower the ISO number, the finer the grain, and the less sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO number the larger the grain, the more sensitivity to light.

Tom’s Tip:

  • “For a low-intensity scene or show, use an aperture of f/11, a shutter speed of 10 seconds, and an ISO of 100.
  • For a medium-intensity scene or show, use an aperture of f/16, a shutter speed of 10 seconds, and an ISO of 100.
  • For a high-intensity scene or show, use an aperture of f/22, a shutter speed of 10 seconds, and an ISO of 100.”

Capturing Fireworks with a Point & Shoot Camera:

You don’t have to have a bulky, heavy, DSLR camera to get great fireworks shots!  A point and shoot camera can work just fine.

Even though it can be cumbersome, bring your tripod.  It’s essential.

To keep your camera from trying to figure out what to focus on, use the landscape or scenery setting. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireworks setting on your camera, use it. (Duh, right?) If not, check to see if your camera has a low light/night setting.  Turn the flash off and experiment with the different modes to see what works best.

Simply pressing the button on your camera to take the photo can cause camera shake, so use your camera’s self-timer. You know, it’s the one you use when trying to take a family photo that always seems to go off too soon or too late.  If it has a setting for the length of time, use the shortest time possible so the explosions you’re trying to capture aren’t burned out before the camera can capture them.

Tom’s Tip:

  • If your point and shoot camera has settings like mentioned in the DSLR section above, use them. If it does not:
    • Turn the flash off
    • Use the landscape/scenery settings on your camera, selecting the low light/night or fireworks setting if you’re lucky enough to have it.
    • Use your camera’s self timer set to the shortest amount of time possible to reduce camera shake.

Smartphone Apps for Night Photography:

No guarantees here since I haven’t had a chance to experiment with it yet (the 4th is still a few days away), but I’ve done some research and downloaded a few iphone apps to help capture low light night photography and fireworks photos. (Don’t worry, Android users, I’ve got you covered too!)

  • Keep the flash and HDR settings to off and set the resolution to the highest possible.
  • Use a tripod to avoid camera shake.  There are adaptors on Amazon that allow you to connect your smartphone to a tripod.
  • Use a timer in one of the camera apps to avoid shake.
  • Experiment with burst mode (continuous high-speed photos) on your smartphone camera if it has it.

iPhone Camera Apps:

  • Vapp allows you to use voice command to snap a photo, preventing camera shake. (I just saved you from those dreaded family photos too, no more having to rush in, hoping to beat the timer!)
  • Night Camera for iPhone is for taking pictures at night or in low light situations.
  • Camera+ for iPhone has advanced shooting modes including burst, timer, and stabilizer.
  • Cortex Camera captures multiple images quickly and combines them into one clearer image with less noise.

Android Camera Apps:

  • Night Camera for Android allows you to take photos in low-light/night settings.
  • Camera Zoom FX is one of the most popular pimp your photos camera apps for Android, (complete with voice activated shutter).

Composition when Photographing Fireworks

One of the coolest thing about watching a fireworks show, next to the smell of the gunpowder and the boom you can feel in your chest, is seeing how huge they look raining down above you in the big dark sky.  But in a photograph, a colorful burst on a black background will not give your photo any perspective to the height or size of the explosion.

  • Plan your composition using the silhouette of the crowd, landscaping, or architecture to help ground your photos and make them more interesting.
  • Use reflections in water or windows to double the fun.
  • Include a city skyline compete with sparkling buildings and street lamps to add perspective and light in the foreground.
There’s a ton more information on advanced techniques and tips for editing your photos with digital software in the book, How to Photograph Fireworks, The Complete Guide to Capturing Fireworks Like a Pro, by Tom Bricker, Cory Disbrow, and Adam Hansen!  

Tom’s generously created a code to save FatWallet readers 50% off the eBook: FATWALLET50

You can thank me with chocolate for hooking you up!

Please tweet us your firework photos to @fatwallet. We can’t wait to see them!

Happy 4th of July!
:) Heather

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