Happy (early) 4th! 4 Tips for Photographing Fireworks

We thought we’d run our fireworks post again. Much like our “better pics in front of the Christmas Tree” post, it’s handy enough to make an annual tradition.

For as long as fireworks and cameras have co-existed, I imagine many folks have been walking away with dark blurry images.  Firecracker photography can be cracked with a few vital pointers.  Here are 4 quick ones that’ll make nearly all the difference:


I know, I actually said it.  Truth is, I hate tripods.  The T-word is almost a bad word around this site, because we primarily focus on taking lifestyle images of our kids.  Tripods just get in the way of storytelling.  

They do have a time and a place, though, and in the case of fireworks, there’s simply no way around it.  You’re going to be using loooong shutter speeds (over 2 seconds).  So unless you want jaggedy fireworks, a tripod is (unfortunately) a must.

Many photographers will also insist on a hands free shutter release.    Since you already look like a nerd with the tripod, feel free to take your geeky-ness to this ultimate extreme.  Otherwise, just press the shutter button gently with your finger.

2. Manual Focus

Fireworks are here for a second and then they’re gone.  Your autofocus doesn’t stand a chance.

You need to switch to manual focus.  If you have a DSLR, that likely means you need to switch a little switch on your lens (from AF for autofocus to MF).

Next, set your focus to infinity.  That’s toward the infinity symbol (sideways 8).  You may want to then just back it off a tiny bit (a little less than infinity).  But it all depends on how far you are.  Start with infinity though.

3. Manual Exposure

Don’t be afraid:

  • ISO 100.
  • Shutter speed of 2-3 seconds.  2.5 seconds would be a good start.
  • Aperture of at least f8 but maybe as high as f16.  f11 would be a good start.

This’ll all combine to give you a low noise pic with cool light trails.  There’s other stuff people will want you to worry about (white balance, self timers, noise reduction settings, blah blah blah), but you’re good to go.
If none of this makes any sense to you, no biggie.  You just need a few lessons (from the Understanding Exposure Module) in the Photo Fix – included in our SPS Members Program.  

4. Don’t forget the kids.

After you’ve successfully photographed the sky, don’t forget to go the complete opposite direction with all your camera settings and get a few pics of the kids.  You’ll likely need to bump your ISO to 1600 or 3200 (or higher if your camera can handle it), shoot wide open, and the lowest shutter speed you can get before blurry pics creep in (1/160 is about as low as you can go if there’s any chance that kiddo will move).    

As a little treat, we’ve opened up a couple of lessons in our Members program that cover fireworks as well. If you have a few minutes, they’d be well worth it. The first is a bit of an overview and the second is full of detailed tips from one of our members.

We encourage you to try getting some pics of fireworks this year. You may just surprise yourself!

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