Every year I plan to take amazing fireworks photos on the Fourth of July. And guess what? Every year I don’t. And then I’m disappointed because it’s going to be an entire year until I have the chance again. So this is going to be the year, and to get ready I’ve gathered up everything you (and I) need to know to get great photos of fireworks, no matter what kind of camera you have. I’ll start with some basic fireworks photography tips, then give you the rundown for how to shoot fireworks with a phone, point and shoot, or dSLR camera.
Basic fireworks photography tips:
First, if you want great photos of a fireworks display, you’re going to have to decide if you’ll be the parent or if you’ll be the photographer. If you’re going to be the parent, you’ll be busy holding the child that’s scared of the fireworks or looking for wipes for the kids who’s hands are dirty. You’ll also be busy watching your kids enjoy the show. All these things are great, and this is what I spend most fireworks displays doing, so I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. I am saying it’s going to be hard to get fantastic fireworks photos at the same time. If you have young kids, you’ll need someone else to be the go-to adult while you take photos.
Next, you need a good view. This will probably be easy to find if you’re photographing your own family fireworks display, but might take a little more work if you’re in the middle of a crowd watching a large display. You may want to arrive early to scout out a good location. It will be easier to take photos if you not right under the fireworks so you aren’t trying to shoot straight up into the sky. In fact, if you’re quite a ways away from the fireworks you can add some of the scenery or people into your photos, which looks very cool.
Third, no matter what camera you’ll be using, you will want a tripod. The only way to get a shot that shows the gorgeous fireworks trails is to use a slow shutter speed, which means any camera shake will result in a blurry photo. Consider investing in a gorilla pod or other inexpensive tripod. You’ll also get better results if you use a remote shutter release button or figure out how to use the self timer – that way touching the button with your finger won’t cause camera shake.
Finally, practice! You want to be familiar with your tripod, your self timer or remote shutter, and with whatever settings you’ll end up using. I know, it’s kind of hard to practice taking photos of fireworks before the fireworks actually go off, so your best best is to let your kids stay up late a few nights before and play with sparklers. Have them move them around while you take photos at a low shutter speed. The kids will have a blast, you’ll get some fun 4th of July inspired photos, and you’ll get used to your settings and equipment. Check out this post from Jenny Collier for great tips on beautiful sparkler photos.
Alright, now for some tips that are more specific to the type of camera you’ll be using.
How to take fireworks photos with a point and shoot camera
Many digital point and shoot cameras come with a fireworks setting, making this the easiest way to photograph fireworks. Just set your camera up on the tripod, turn it to fireworks setting, and start shooting. The camera will automatically show down the shutter speed so you don’t have to do a thing. Now, you won’t be able to fine-tune the results so you’ll have to take what you get, but this is probably the best way to get fireworks photos without much work.
How to take fireworks photos with your phone
To get the best fireworks photos with your phone, you’re going to need an app that allows you to slow down your shutter speed. Slow shutter cam is a good one that has a “light trails” setting which will allow you to experiment with some different effects. It also has a shutter delay setting to help eliminate camera shake. You’ll definitely want to practice the night before with some sparklers to get the hang of the app.
If you don’t use a slow shutter app, use the first explosion to “set” your phone camera’s exposure and focus. On the first fireworks explosion, double tap on your screen where the firework shows up. This will set the exposure and focus for the firework (instead of for the surrounding area). Then actually take the photo when the next firework shoots off. This will help the rest of your photo stay nice and dark.
Remember that if you’re taking photos with a phone you’ll want to be as close to the fireworks as possible. Don’t use your phone’s zoom – you’ll end up with super grainy photos (it’s better to crop afterwards if needed).
How to take fireworks photos with your dSLR
To get the best photos of a fireworks display, you’ll need your dSLR and you’ll need to have some idea of how to shoot in manual and change your settings. Here are the basics:
- Your shutter speed should be very very low, about 2-3 seconds long.
- Your f-stop should be pretty high, about f11-f16.
- ISO should be at 100 for best photo quality and best colors.
Start with these settings, USE A TRIPOD, and start experimenting. You can look at the photo in between each shot and make adjustments for a better shot next time.
There are lots of how-to articles for shooting fireworks for a dSLR, and many of them are very technical. These are the ones I think are the most helpful:
Me Ra Koh give you a great step by step “photo recipe” for fireworks, walking you through how to figure out the camera settings even if you’re not used to shooting on manual. Super helpful.
Click it Up a Notch gives a nice demonstration of how to adjust settings to get the best photos, including example shots at different settings.
Photobook Girl shares a thorough overview of her experience taking fireworks photos, with lots of great beginner advice.
Finally, for some fun 4th of July photo inspiration, check out this post at I Heart Faces. Good luck and happy Fourth!