5 Tips for Taking Awesome Fireworks Pictures this Fourth of July!

It's almost here...fireworks season!  Whether you'll be enjoying them with thousands of others as they light up your town, or with family and friends as your uncle attempts to not lose a finger, capturing photos of the celebration can be a fun challenge.  Before we get into the tips, there are two things you're going to need:

  • A camera you can control the shutter speed on.  Sure you can use a DSLR for this, but my Canon S95 from 7 years ago works great as well!  You're going to want to aim for a 5-30 second exposure depending on the level of streaking desired.

  • A way to stabilize the camera - I usually go for the tripod but have used backpacks, boxes, and the hood of a humvee (make sure the engine is off to eliminate vibration!).  It really doesn't matter what you're using, as long as your camera doesn't move when the shutter is open!

1.  Set the camera up ahead of time

Know where the fireworks are going to be originating and where they'll be bursting, then set up your camera so that the entire scene will be captured.  Make sure that you leave plenty of room in the frame for the burst to spread!

2.  Lock in your focus

There's nothing worse than fuzzy photos!  Set your camera to manual focus and lock it so the fireworks will crisp.  This will probably be close to infinity, but try to use something near where they'll be bursting (trees, a building) as a reference point.

3.  Decide if you want a blue or black background

If you want a pretty blue backdrop for your fireworks, you'll want to be sure to take your shots within an hour of sunset, before the end of evening nautical twilight (EENT).  If you want a dramatic black background, wait until at least an hour after the sun sets.

 The soft, blue glow you get in the sky when shooting after sunset but before EENT.

The soft, blue glow you get in the sky when shooting after sunset but before EENT.

 The dramatic black backdrop you'll get shooting after EENT.

The dramatic black backdrop you'll get shooting after EENT.

4.  Decide how much you want to capture

If you really want to capture the individual shell bursts, then you'll want to use a shorter exposure.  If you want a photo that gives an idea of the feel and impact of the many bursts going off, go for a longer exposure closer of between 10 and 30 seconds.

 A 5-second exposure captures a single shell burst

A 5-second exposure captures a single shell burst

 A 10-second exposure captures multiple bursts

A 10-second exposure captures multiple bursts

5. Have fun with it!

Let's be honest here - if it's not fun, we're probably going to remember that time we ruined the Fourth taking fuzzy pictures.  Practice a bit ahead of time by playing around with a slow shutter speed in low light, but remember that it's about capturing the moment and enjoying doing so.