Shooting fireworks isn’t as hard as it seems. Set your ISO to 100, prepare for long exposures (at least 2 seconds, but probably longer), set your manual focus to infinity, and you’re pretty much ready to go. Of course you can experiment from there, but those are the most basic things to keep in mind. Stop down your aperture (f/11 is a good place to start, but many photographers will shoot fireworks in f/16 or higher), set a low ISO to avoid noise on the long exposures and a slow shutter speed since you’re going to be in the dark, and don’t even bother trying to autofocus.
But what gear should you bring to best help you capture those patriotic explosions in the sky this Independence day?
Trust in your tripod. This probably goes without saying, but since you’re going to be exposing for two seconds or longer, you’re going to need a stabilizing system. The question, then, is which tripod you should use, and this depends on what size lens you’re bringing to the fireworks show. If you’re shooting with a lighter, wide-angle lens in landscape to capture not only the fireworks but the scenery, then a tripod like the Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod, or the MeFoto Travel Tripod line would be good options. They’re incredibly portable and lightweight, which is good if you’re also lugging a cooler and a grill to the fireworks site. However, if you’re going to be using a longer (and heavier) telephoto lens, you will want to get a tripod with a larger maximum weight capacity, like the Induro AT413 or the Benro C0190T.
No touching. Even though you’ll have your camera on a tripod, your long exposures are still vulnerable to camera shake when you physically press the shutter release button. That’s why you need to get a shutter release cable. Just make sure you get one that works with your camera. If you’re feeling really hi-tech, you can get a couple of PocketWizard Plus X triggers and remotely, wirelessly release your camera.
Look at this lens. When deciding what lens to bring, you’re going to want to visualize what kind of shots you’d like to take ahead of time. Do you want to get the full scope of the fireworks show, perhaps with some scenery colorfully illuminated by the explosions in the night? Then you’ll probably want to bring a wide angle or wide-zoom lens. Or perhaps you want to fill the frame with color and light? Get in close with a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens. Just be aware of where the fireworks are generally peaking in the sky, since you’ll have to be more precise with your composition if you’re using a lens with a longer focal length.
Be prepared. You don’t want to haul your camera equipment out to the lake house and then not be able to take any photos because you ran out of battery life, or your memory cards broke. Stock up on extra batteries and memory cards before you hit the road July 4.
Flash? Forget about it. In pretty much any other situation, flash is going to make your photos better, as long as you know how to use it. But not here. Leave your flash at home.
Further reading: Photojojo has some great ideas for how to be creative with your fireworks photos. For EOS DSLR shooters, Canon breaks down the best settings to use. National Geographic has some quick tips and some beautiful sample images (of course). And Digital Photography School teaches you a lesson in firework photography.
We’d love to see your fireworks photos. Send an image or two to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share them on our social media. Happy Independence Day!