All photos were taken in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during Japanese summer festivals.
These photos were my second and third attempt at firework photography. I used a Nikon D3000 and 18-55mm kit lens. If I can take these shots with the most basic gear, you can, too.
You need to understand the exposure triangle.
I must admit I didn’t completely understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO at the time but there are tonnes of tutorials online. Check out this amazing tutorial.
Ok, back to the fireworks…
1. Shooting Mode
I shoot in manual mode so I can control all of my camera settings. It was a challenge at first but explanations like this helped.
2. You need a tripod.
Or a monopod or anything sturdy. Of course you want to avoid camera shake right? Especially with the long shutter speeds you need to capture fireworks. A tripod is best but you can use a bench or branches of a short tree or even your friend’s shoulder (because no one watches fireworks alone). Before I got a tripod, I used anything I could find. Remember, you have to consider getting a shutter remote, too if you don’t want shaking at the beginning of every shot. You can try 2-second delay but you’ll have to pay extra attention to when to start your exposure.
I kept my ISO as low as possible at 100. A lower ISO means less noise/grain in the photo. Also, the camera’s sensor will be exposed to light for a few/many seconds which means more noise/grain, so why not start with the lowest ISO possible. There are many cases where you will increase the ISO in long exposure photography but this is just what works for me.
When I shoot fireworks I try to stay between f/9 & f/16. Most of my photos were shot at f/11. I have shot wide apertures before (f/2.8 or larger) to let more light in but because the fireworks light up the sky so well, all my photos below were a overexposed mess. f/11 for me gives a good balance of depth of field and light.
5. Shutter speed
So, what’s the length of time you should keep the shutter open? Well, that depends on the fireworks. But not too long because remember that overexposed mess? It will happen if the shutter is open too long. I generally watch the fireworks and imagine what the camera is capturing then when I close my eyes I close the shutter. It sounds a bit weird but it always works for me. I generally start at 9 seconds but I never go longer than 20 seconds (at f/11). Experiement to find what works for you.
6. Focus, Focus, Focus
I use the first burst of fireworks as a test. Then, I know where in the sky the fireworks will explode. I frame and focus the first shot, then switch my focus button to manual. You can also focus to infinity. Make sure to check the back of your camera every few shots. You don’t want to look at your photos after the fireworks show to discover that all your shots are blurry, or too dark/light.
Fireworks are great on their own but why not include details in the foreground or background to make a more compelling images. I love doing this with silhouettes. I have noticed, most people sit still when at a fireworks show. So, shorten your shutter speed to lessen the change of a blury images. If you use wider angle lenses, why not get buildings or bridges or trees in the shot. You will have to pre-focus on these so they are as sharp as possible.
You can even try capturing multiple fireworks in the same exposure by blocking the lens with something black between bursts.
All the pictures above were captured (single exposures) by me with a Nikon D3000, Nikon 18-55mm and a SLIK U6600 tripod. So it’s possible without fancy gear.
So maybe all the shots aren’t epic but who cares! What are you waiting for? Set your ISO to 100, choose your aperture, get your camera sturdy and try it! Make the 4th of July fireworks experience more fun! And even if your photos aren’t perfect the first time, you can keep practicing! Share your tips and your fireworks shots below!
See full resolutions these and more fireworks photos on my Flickr page.