How to Photograph Fireworks This Fourth of July
Published: June 29 2018
How to Photograph Fireworks This Fourth of July:
The United States of America is coming up on it’s 242nd birthday, and what better way to celebrate it than by participating in the national pastime of launching exploding colors up into the sky. Most people may enjoy viewing fireworks passively, but since we are photographers at heart, the best way for us to enjoy them is by capturing the perfect shot! The question is exactly how do you photograph fireworks? In this post we will go over exactly what you need to capture these rockets red glare, along with the setup and gear necessary to prepare.
Capturing the perfect bouquet of exploding light may not be as easy as it looks, but with a little preparation and practice, we will have you snapping the perfect firework photos in no time.
Rule One: Use a Tripod
As awesome as it is to capture the fireworks themselves, why not incorporate the nightscape in the shot? Using a tripod will allow you to capture the little light that is in the area and not just a dark scene, and every fraction of a second counts.
Using a tripod will significantly help in your endeavor to capture fireworks mainly because without it, your shutter speeds will be able to record your hand shake, especially at 1/16 of a second. If you’re okay with a little noise in your final shot, you can always increase the ISO and capture the fireworks without a tripod, just remember that you are practically shooting in the dark and your camera will only capture light along with whatever object is near enough to reflect from the fireworks, i.e. water, skyscrapers, maybe some foliage.
Beware the no tripod squiggles
What is the best lens to photograph fireworks?
It would be wise to use a wider lens, from 35mm downward. Shooting with a telephoto lens would limit you from framing the photograph with its surroundings. It would be best to incorporate the background and area along with the fireworks, unless you wanted to catch the details of the fireworks specifically. This selection also depends on your vantage point for when you are capturing the shots. If you don’t mind carrying the extra bulk, then have at it, but I will say, it’s not as much fun watching a 30-60 minute firework show when you are constantly switching lenses.
If you have a tripod then getting a very versatile zoom range would help especially if you have a tripod. Tamron makes some great zoom lenses that can span from 18-400mm and 16-300mm. If you know you’ll be fairly close then maybe a wide angle zoom would fit your style more! All of the lens manufacturers pretty much have at least a 12-24mm zoom lens to pick from that would fit every flavor of photography.
Probably should have gone a little wider...
Exposure Settings when photographing fireworks
There are many different settings you can play around with when shooting fireworks but one of the things that should remain constant the whole time is your autofocus setting, which should be turned off. Since you will probably be at a safe distance from the fireworks (I hope), manually setting your focus to infinity will be your best bet! Your aperture will be up to you and your preference, but your lens will typically be sharper from a slightly higher aperture. If you have room in your exposure, give your aperture some slack.
One of the most variable settings will be your shutter, which you will need to play with a bit to get just right. Typically you can capture a really good light trail in your shot if you expose throughout the duration of the firework traveling up into the sky until the pop which you can accomplish if your camera has a bulb mode setting. If your camera does not have bulb mode, then play around with the shutter speeds to the average time of the fireworks and you’ll do alright.
Remote/Timer and Wifi
When using slow shutter speeds, the tiniest push of the button will be captured along with your photograph. Thankfully, there are a few options available to overcome this hurdle. The good old shutter release cable will always be a good partner for you since that will typically be able to override your shutter speed to bulb mode. If you don’t have a shutter release cable, you can always select the two second timer on your camera so after you press the shutter, the shake will not be recorded. Picture this: if you have the shutter speed setting set to half a second, the whole shake would be captured from the time you hit the shutter button. This is why it is important to leave the camera alone for a bit after you push down on the shutter.
Many modern camera manufacturers include wifi capabilities in their cameras, which can allow you to release the shutter remotely through your cell phone. Note that not all camera manufacturers are made equal. There can be a bit of a lag when it comes to using your camera’s wifi app, so it would be good to set this up at least a day before the shoot to get the hang of synchronizing your phone with your camera. Another good thing about setting up your camera’s wifi with your cell phone is that you won’t need to have the 2 second timer on either!
Being able to capture fireworks is a great accomplishment in its own right, but once you nail that shot why not try to venture out of your comfort zone? Try to secure an interesting vantage point, or look for different locations that host firework shows. Find out if you can rent a Kayak and get on the lake as they display some fireworks, and hope that your camera doesn’t fall in the water. Pay for a helicopter ride during a fireworks show. Or you know, go to a fireworks show and enjoy the moment. The most important part is to have fun.
Hope you all have a great 4th of July! Don’t forget to pack a burger in your camera bag, especially if you’re planning to secure a spot early.
We were able to get a hold of Lucas Nooter who is in charge of purchasing for our tripod department who is also an amazing landscape photographer and here are his top pics! (get it?! PICS?!)
SIRUI 1205X (without Ballhead): Solid and sturdy it has a weight capacity of 22 lbs being carbon fiber it will only be an extra 2 lb tow for you and all of your camera equipment! If budget is not an issue, then the worthy investment of $259.99 will definitely be with you for a long time!
Benro 9200 Slim: It has a smaller profile than the SIRUI but does way a feather heavier than Sirui by .2 lbs totalling its weight to 2.2 lbs. It’s also a carbon fiber tripod but the capacity is 8.8 lbs, so maybe don’t put that 400mm f2.8 lens on there. What makes it a top choice is also the price at $139 signficantly less than the SIRUI.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB: This choice may not be carbon fiber (aluminum) but the weight capacity of the tripod can carry more than the Benro. With the price being slightly higher than the Benro Slim at $169, it is capable of handling heavier payloads topping at 15.4 lbs the only issue is if you’re willing to carry a 5.4 lbs tripod with you the whole time.
Joby 3K: Lastly, if you plan on taking it easy by carrying lightly the Joby 3K would work perfectly for you, especially if you have a mirrorless system. This gorillapod that Joby made was designed specifically to handle the payload of most mirrorless products and consumer level DSLR’s with a capacity of 6.6 lbs you would be able to have more flexibility with crowds or get that really low angle for your photographs. $80
Phottix Taimi Digital Remote: This remote trigger is the most versatile in terms of remote triggers. Whether you have Sony, Nikon, or Canon this trigger will come with the cords needed to get you shooting with a cable with no worry! $42.95