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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

How To Photograph Fireworks

By December 31, 2012

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Fireworks Display in Myrtle Beach (Anne Helmenstine)Once you've gone to all the trouble of making your own fireworks, you'll want to test them out. Why not take photographs of the event? It's easy to take good photos of fireworks, providing you set up your camera in advance. Here's what you do. Of course, these tips work if you're watching any display of fireworks, not just your own!
  • Use a Tripod
    No matter what camera you use, you'll get much better results if you use a tripod. If you don't have a tripod, rest the camera on an immobile object, like a wall.

  • Turn off the Flash
    The exception is when you want to capture the observers and not just the fireworks. Otherwise, your flash won't reach the fireworks, except to light up the smoke, which almost certainly isn't your goal. One thing the flash will do is trick your camera into thinking it needs a short exposure, which may give you a less-blurry shot, but usually won't produce a good picture.

  • Use Manual Focus
    It's unlikely your camera can auto-focus on the fireworks. It may spend a lot of time searching for a focus, causing you to miss the action completely. Use manual focus. Infinity is a good starting point. Test the focus on a bright object, like the moon or a distant streetlight.

  • Shoot in Manual Mode
    If it's an option, try shooting in manual mode. A low ISO (such as ISO 100) will help you get a clean shot. You'll want to experiment with aperture and shutter speed. Fireworks are actually pretty bright, so you can shoot between f/8 and f/16. You'll capture more light with a longer exposure, but resist the tendency to keep it open too long. Try a time ranging from half a second to a couple of seconds.

  • Record Your Efforts
    Be scientific about it, to see what is working for you and what isn't. At a large public display, you may not have time to implement changes between one firework and the next, but if it's your own private display, you can perfect your technique.

  • Enlist Help from the Camera
    Many point-and-shoot cameras have a "fireworks" mode. Take the guesswork out of the settings and take it for a spin. It's best to use a tripod and also a remote release shutter, to prevent shaking the camera.

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