How to Photograph Fireworks

Wondering about photographing fireworks on 4th of July, New Year or some other event / occasion? In this quick article, I will provide some basic tips on how to best capture fireworks, what type of equipment to use and what camera settings to use during the process. Although the process is relatively simple, there are some things that might be worth considering, as outlined below.

Fireworks 1

Fireworks, 3 second exposure

1) Find the Best Location

The first thing you need to determine is where you are going to stand. I would not recommend standing too close to fireworks, because you will be constantly looking up and eventually you will get tired from trying to photograph the fireworks. In addition, if it is too close, you might need a wide-angle lens to fit the action into the frame, which might present another problem – you might end up including unwanted objects like buildings and trees into the frame. Therefore, the best thing to do is to stand further away in an open area (with short or no trees), ideally at a spot that gives you a maximum of 45 degrees view angle relative to the ground, as shown in the diagram below.

45 Degrees

The further you stand, the lower the angle and the more focal length (zoom) you will need. Obviously, each situation is different, so just try to find a good spot with clear views of the sky in an open, unobstructed area that can give you a nice angle to photograph the fireworks.

2) What Camera to Take

Manual Camera Mode

The good news is that you don’t need an expensive and fancy camera to photograph fireworks – any camera that allows shooting in manual mode will work perfectly fine. Many of the point and shoot cameras do, so double check your manual and see how you can switch to manual mode. Another good thing about shooting fireworks, is that you will be shooting at lowest sensitivity levels (ISO), which means that there will be very minimal amounts of grain, if any. So you don’t have to worry about your camera capabilities, besides being able to switch to manual mode and preferably being able to hard set your camera to a low ISO value like 100. If you have a DSLR, you are all set, because you can do all of this very quickly. Some point and shoot cameras even have a “Fireworks Mode”, which works great and does not require you to change any settings on the camera.

3) What Lens to Use

If you have a point and shoot camera, make sure that its lens can do at least 5x optical zoom, not digital. Optical zoom means that the camera lens will physically move to get more reach, while digital zoom means that the camera will simply cut out the image corners to make it seem like you are closer.

If you have a DSLR, you might wonder what lens to take with you. I have been shooting fireworks for several years now and I find that telephoto zoom lenses above 100mm work best for fireworks. If you have a full-frame camera, my personal favorite is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR or the Nikon 70-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, unless you are planning to be close to a relatively well-lit location like downtown and want to capture a wider image, in which case a shorter focal length zoom like 24-70mm would be more appropriate.

Downtown Denver Fireworks

Nikon D700+Nikon 70-200mm, 25 sec @ f/10, ISO 100

The above exposure was 25 seconds, because I waited for the fireworks for about 20 seconds before they fired, so the first 20 seconds were just to expose the downtown area.

Why a telephoto zoom lens? Because you want the fireworks to fill the frame instead of looking rather small with all kinds of badly-lit foreground elements. In most cases, you will primarily be zooming in to capture the action.

4) Other equipment

  • Tripod – an absolute must. Get one if you do not already have one, since you won’t get any good pictures by just hand-holding your camera. Remember, you will be using low ISO levels and long shutter speeds above 1 second, which means that hand-holding is not an option – too much camera shake will spoil your images.
  • Remote shutter release – very helpful to have one, especially if it allows shooting in “Bulb” mode (DSLR only), but not required.
Fireworks 2

Nikon D700+70-200mm, 4 sec @ f/10, ISO 200

5) Camera settings

First, set your camera on the tripod and connect the remote shutter release (if available). Then, change the following camera settings:

  1. ISO – start out by setting your camera ISO to its base ISO level (100 on most cameras including Canon and 200 on most modern Nikon DSLRs) and turn off “Auto ISO”, if you have it turned on.
  2. Image Format – if your camera has the capability, shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG.
  3. White Balance – if you shoot in RAW, set your White Balance to “Auto” (you can change it later). If you shoot in JPEG, set your White Balance to “Daylight” – it works well in most cases.
  4. Noise Reduction – set “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” to “Off” (if available). Keeping it “On” will significantly slow down your exposures, which is unnecessary.
  5. Camera Mode – switch your camera mode to “Manual Mode”.
  6. Shutter Speed and Aperture – set your shutter speed to 3 seconds and aperture between f/8 and f/10.

6) Lens Focusing and Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization

This part is tricky, because you need to make sure that your focus is correctly acquired, whether you are shooting a point and shoot or DSLR camera. Options with point and shoot cameras are rather limited, so you will have on camera’s autofocus system. Start focusing when there is a bright explosion the camera can use for focusing on and then press the shutter button. After the photo is taken, review it on the LCD and make sure that the fireworks are in focus.

If you are shooting a DSLR camera, start out by setting your lens focus to infinity and then take a picture. Many modern lenses allow focusing “beyond infinity”, which might screw up the focus on your images. What I typically do to make sure that my focus is 100% accurate, is focus on a bright explosion using the camera’s autofocus system (by half-pressing the shutter button or pressing the “AF-ON” button), then once the focus is good, I change the lens focus to manual (“M”). Since I do not move, my focus from that point on will be accurate and won’t change, unless I zoom in/out (in which case I would have to move from Manual focus to Autofocus and try again). If for some reason you cannot acquire focus on fireworks, try focusing on a brightly-lit subject that is far away and see if the images are in focus.

If you are shooting with a camera body or lens that has Image Stabilization (or Vibration Reduction in the Nikon world), you need to turn it off – it is of no use when shooting on a tripod.

Fireworks 3

Nikon D700+70-200mm, 5 sec @ f/10, ISO 200

7) Framing your shots

Don’t worry much about framing your shots in the very beginning – just observe the sky and try to fit the initial explosions. You will be constantly zooming in/out and re-framing, so there is really no set rule for this. Your objective is to try to fit the explosions into your frame, from the beginning to the end of the explosion. If the fireworks appear smaller, it is OK – you can crop your images later.

8) Shooting the fireworks

When the fireworks show begins, take a picture during a bright explosion and see if the image is underexposed or overexposed. If the image is too bright, keep your shutter speed the same and try increasing the aperture to a higher number like f/16. If the image is too dark, try increasing your shutter speed to a longer period like 4-6 seconds. Keep in mind that the longer your shutter speed, the more action your camera will capture, which is not necessarily what you want – too long of an exposure might make fireworks look too blurry. I generally try to keep the shutter speed below 4-5 seconds when there is plenty of action.

Once the exposure looks good, take a series of shots and try lowering shutter speeds to 1-2 seconds and increasing them to 5-6 seconds to get different types of shots.

If you have a remote shutter release and your camera supports “Bulb” in Manual Mode, then try it out by opening up the shutter at the beginning of the explosion and then release it when it ends. You don’t want the exposure to be too long, because the sky will brighten up and the smoke will also be very visible (you want the sky to look pitch black).

Fireworks 4

Nikon D700+70-200mm, 2 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200

9) Photo challenge

So here is a photo challenge for you – using the above tips, go out and take some pictures of your local fireworks show. Pick your best photo of the day, then post a link to it in the comments section below.

Hope this helps, happy upcoming Independence Day!

Comments

  1. July 2, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Nasim aka, what about if I have Fireworks mode in my camera (as many others do).

    Then should I just change it to Fireworks mode and forget about Manual mode and all it’s settings?

    • July 2, 2010 at 8:57 am

      Dilorom, that’s great – simply change your camera mode to “Fireworks Mode” and you will be all set. No need to change to Manual Mode or ISO :)

      Thank you for your comment, I updated the article!

  2. 2
    ) NanOnaN
    July 2, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Thank you for the post, once I failed shooting fireworks.

    What does it mean- focus to infinity? is it a focusing mode on camera?

    • July 2, 2010 at 8:59 am

      NanOnaN, focusing is done on the camera lens, so if you are using manual focus, you can rotate the focus ring until you get to the infinity sign. But just like I pointed out in the article, you might want to try autofocus instead, just to make sure that the focus is accurate. You can then switch to manual focus on the lens after the focus is properly acquired.

  3. 5
    ) Peng
    July 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Good timing Nasim. I was about to ask you to write how to photograph fireworks and you just did it. You make my day :)

    Can’t wait to go out and shoot. Thanks much!

    • July 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Thank you Peng! Let me know how those pics come out and good luck!

  4. 6
    ) David McConnell
    July 2, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Dear Nasim
    First let me say what an honor it is to have you and your work to learn from. I have been a free lance photogpher since Christmas. When I recieved a Nikon D3000. I have learned so much from you. I want to say thank you for your unselfishness as a giver and a teacher.
    One more atta boy and I will stop. There are a truckload of ppl who can take a pic but can’t teach it like you can. There are alot of ppl that think they know the craft inside and out, you, sir have the ability to get it right across on any level so even the noviest up to pro can get it. I thank you for the time and energy you put into teaching and answering questions, and shaing your awesome shots and photography with those of us that look forward to your work. I thank you for all the energy you put into this blog, and as soon as I found you I added you to my FAVORITES LIST..
    Thanks sir, God bless, and keep them shutters a clickin
    David McConnell

    • July 3, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      David, you are too kind to me, thank you so much!

      I am very happy that you find my articles useful and I also love sharing my knowledge with valuable readers like you. Every comment I receive is a great feedback for my work and I truly value and appreciate it.

      Once again, thank you for being so sincere.

      You’ve made my day! :) Happy Independence Day to you and your family!!!

  5. July 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    DearNasim
    First of all thank you for responding to my last comment. I meant all of it from the bottom of my heart. I feel you are a great teacher as much so as a photographer. I do have 1 question though. For christmas , as I stated I recieved a nikonD 3000 kit.I
    find myself wishing I could pull the shot in a little closer like wildlife.and the like. when I look at lenses like 70mm-200. I have to pick my jaw up and dust it off. can you reccomend a lens in the $200 range that would give me more bang for the buck without duplacating the 18-55 kit glass. I looked at the mirror type.Seems ok for just wildlife. I think someone asked you this not long ago, and you recamended like a 50mm . but they wanted to shoot mostly portraits. where would I spend my best $200. PS:I am disabled on a fixed income is why I asked. . 71 opperations and 115 admissions to the hospital. heck I need to call gunnesis book of records maybe!!!
    thanks in advance for your adviceit really means alot.
    keep the shutter clicking
    David McConnell

    • 10
      ) Rod
      July 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      David for $200 budget maybe you’ll find the 55-200 VR kit lens good enough. I’m not so sure if will be good for wild life since you usually need to take faster photos (quicker shutter speed) so having a bigger aperture (like f2/8) is almost a must. This is specially true with low light, in a very bright sunny day and without shadows I managed to use my 55-200 to catch some birds.

      Make sure is the VR version since it makes a difference.

      Regards,

      • July 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm

        Rod, thank you for your suggestion, I also suggested the 55-200mm to David.

    • July 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      David, I apologize for a late response.

      If you need the reach and your budget is $200, I would go with the Nikon 55-200mm VR as Rod suggested above. I was going to suggest the older Nikon 70-300mm first, but it won’t autofocus on your D3000.

      I am very sorry to hear about your health problems…71 operations is a lot. I hope you will recover soon and I wish you lots of health. Please let me know if I can help in any way.

      Sincerely,
      Nasim

  6. 13
    ) Dennis
    July 10, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Thanks for sharing Nasim.

    Do you recommend 16-35mm f4 for fireworks? Or 18-200mm? I will be locating in the stadium, and I guess the fireworks are pretty close up.

    • July 17, 2010 at 2:03 am

      Dennis, the 18-200mm would be more useful in case you want to zoom in :)

      Sorry for a late response!

      • 15
        ) Dennis
        July 22, 2010 at 7:36 am

        Thanks for your advice! I am hoping to catch the fireworks in the coming Aug.

  7. 16
    ) Viru
    August 6, 2010 at 4:07 am

    Hi,

    Great info on your site. I had one quick question.

    I thought Focus and Zoom are independent. Meaning, If I focus an object and change the zoom, the object would still be in focus. Now I am doubting myself since you said “Since I do not move, my focus from that point on will be accurate and won’t change, unless I zoom in/out (in which case I would have to move from Manual focus to Autofocus and try again)”.

    Thanks,
    Viru

    • August 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm

      Viru,

      That’s an incorrect assumption. Even if you do not touch your focus when you zoom in/out, unless your focus is at infinity and you are shooting a distant subject, your focus will certainly change. Try it on your camera with an object that is relatively close. Zoom in, focus, shoot, then zoom out and take another shot. Compare the two and you will see the difference.

      • 20
        ) dp
        December 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

        Hi there :)
        I think you will find certain lens designs which are ‘parfocal.’ This means that the focus point will stay the same upon changing the focal length. An example, is, I’m told, Tamron’s 28-75 FX lens.
        However there are many ‘varifocal’ lenses as well which will modify focus upon changing the zooming.

        • January 6, 2011 at 11:26 pm

          DP, whether a lens is parfocal or varifocal, I would not rely on any lens to give accurate results when you zoom in/out…just my 2 cents :)

  8. 18
    ) Christopher
    November 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Mr. Nasim,

    Thanks for this post. I just acquired a D90 slr and your article will be my first project in photography world.
    I will try this one this coming New Year’s eve and show u my shots..

    • December 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      Christopher, thank you for your feedback! Let me know how the images come out!

  9. 22
    ) Sandra Elliott
    February 2, 2011 at 6:11 am

    I have fabulous views (from the back verandah of our house)of the city of Perth in Western Australia and witness some fantastic sunsets and stormy winter skies but I can’t capture the images as I would like to on my point and shoot camera. I have a 35mm SLR camera (still not good enough)but would like to purchase a DSLR with the appropriate lens that can capture the city view from a distance. I am leaning towards a Canon only because of price – what would you recommend? I am open to suggestions – I am only a beginner!!!

  10. February 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Sandra, any brand like Canon, Nikon or Sony would work great – see my Nikon vs Canon article.

  11. 24
    ) June
    June 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Hi Nasim, Great article, it has inspired me photograph firework this 4th July. I only have 35mm f/1.8 and 18-55mm kit lens. Which one do you recommend I use to photograph fireworks?

    Thanks!

  12. 25
    ) Andrew
    June 25, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Nasim,
    We are under a week away from my next chance to finally get some good firework shots. I live just outside of Calgary Alberta. I am planning on heading into the mountians for the Canada Day fireworks. I have a few spots picked out to start shooting, but im still not set on my final spot. I know that I should be far enough back to keep a 45* angle on the shot, but what about height? I have a spot that is up a road that would put me fairly level to where the fireworks will explode. Is this a good idea or should I stay under them for the shot?

    Cheers

  13. August 18, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Here are some of my fireworks shots from around the London Eye.

    http://www.slickpic.com/u/AlphaWhiskey/Fireworks/photo#195753

    It could just be my personal preference, but my shots seem to show more of a static burst than the pictures demonstrated in this article, which seem somewhat blurred . Mine were all shot hand-held with a wide angle lens at ISO 500 or above. Hope it gives an idea of what fireworks look like at the zenith of their burst. :)

    • 40
      ) marsha henderson
      July 5, 2014 at 6:13 am

      A-W –

      Thanks for your post and link. I would like to try your technique. Can you provide what you use for a shutter speed.

      • July 5, 2014 at 6:20 am

        Hi Marsha.

        Yes, My shots were taken at around 1/25-1/30 secs at ISOs of 500+, F/2.8. Fortunately being squashed in a crowd and unable to move is a good form of stabilization! :)

        Regards,
        Sharif.

  14. 27
    ) tatan
    November 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    nasim,
    i tried to take some photos of fireworks in disney, but there is one problem that i encounter… SMOKE… a lot of smoke on my photos, is there any settings on the camera that can eliminate the smoke? i am using a D90 camera.. thanks…

  15. 28
    ) Juliana
    January 9, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Hi Mr. Nasim,

    Here are some of my fireworks shots from New Year 2012 in WPB,Fl

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/30220541@N02/with/6611255009/

    I shot these with a Nikon D3100+18-55mm, 2 sec @ f/10, ISO 100. I made it harder on myself because i forgot my tripod but I tried. Love your site I’ve learned a lot. Would appreciate feedback.

    Thank you

  16. 29
    ) Aaron
    July 1, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I was wondering what settings would be best for filming a firework show with the nikon D5100.

  17. 30
    ) Ryan
    July 3, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Hi Nasim

    I have a nikon 55-300 mm 4.5 lens will that be enough to take photos of fire works? i will be shooting from a parking lot that has light posts will the extra light coming from this post affect my photos? should i cover my viewfinder ?

  18. 31
    ) Jim
    June 17, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Mr. Mansurov,

    Even 3 years later I found this to be a great article. Thank you very much. I just bought an entry level Nikon D3100 and will try using the 55-200 mm lens that came with the kit. I learned a lot from your article and I an hoping to get a practice set of fireworks before the fourth if I have to buy the my self. :-D Thank you again and God Bless your family.

  19. 32
    ) Anup
    July 5, 2013 at 5:08 am

    Hi Nasim,
    Really helpful website, and the way you write in simple terms is appreciable. I would like to know how to take pictures of Sun along with the Sunrays. Can you please add that tutorial which will show us how to take sunrays.
    Thanks

  20. July 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

    This worked beautifully! I wrote a blog post about my experience today and made sure to give a link to this post! Thanks for sharing. http://rubyellen.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/7/finale-first-life-is-like-that-sometimes

  21. 34
    ) SWM123
    July 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I will be trying to capture the Eiffel Tour and the fireworks in the frame from 500 yards and at a 10 degree angle.
    So lots of building lights and I will have to go with 16-35 or 24-70.

  22. February 25, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Great tutorial how to shoot fireworks, I am waiting for coming any festival to try

  23. 36
    ) Umer
    May 19, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Nasim,
    thanks for the great info.
    Shot the following with a D7000, 18-200 VRII, Bulb with a cable release , F11, ISO 100
    would like to share it and get your thoughts on it, or any one else of your readers.

    http://ramzal.smugmug.com/Victoria-Day-Fireworks

    thanks again for all the info.
    Umer.

  24. 37
    ) Konrad
    July 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Hello ,
    This Is my first attempt at photographing fireworks.
    Your tutorial was defiantly very helpful.

    https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0099009/photos/125823999@N02/sets/72157645473276265/

    Thank You.

  25. 38
    ) Erik
    July 4, 2014 at 11:52 pm
  26. 39
    ) Zeeshan
    July 5, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hi.

    Check the link which I had taken few months ago.

    Still can’t understand how to remove smoke from this picture.

    http://500px.com/photo/75684747/burj-khalifa-by-zeeshansaeed80?from=user_library

  27. 42
    ) Sani Saniev
    July 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Nasim salam.

    Yesterday July 4th, I’ve tried to photograph my wife and son with fireworks fully present, but was unable to do so. Baby was moving too much, and they were tired. :)

    Have you ever tried the same fireworks (almost in focus), with the subject hit with strong flash to get both in the picture?

  28. 43
    ) Rajesh Dharmaraj
    July 6, 2014 at 1:12 am

    Wonderful! very helpful article to photograph fireworks, i will try it soon.

  29. 44
    ) Gabriel K
    October 11, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Nasim!!
    I am 14 years old and there was an awesome fireworks show tonight, I didn’t know how to take good photos of them so I found this article. It helped me out so much and I got some great photos!!! Thanks!!
    -Gabriel

  30. 45
    ) Johan M
    October 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Location is very important when shooting fireworks. You do not want to be downwind from the display since all the smoke will be heading your way. Have the wind in the back when you look at the location of the fireworks and you will get much better view of the fireworks, especially in countries like China where they use powder that produce a lot of smoke.

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