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Digital SLR photography tips: Photographing Fireworks

 1st Nov 2009

fireworks photographyFireworks photography is not as complex as you might think, and fireworks make impressive images to amaze your friends with. So with November 5th approaching here's how to photograph fireworks.

You can photograph fireworks with anything - even a compact or mobile phone. I had some fantastic firework shots taken on a Nokia I'd have loved to show off, but sadly they’ve been lost ­ - doh!

A DSLR will certainly give you the most versatility and control over the shoot though. Because fireworks are so bright and they’re set off at night you’ve got loads of contrast to deal with.

Have a dig into the menu and set your 'in camera' contrast to minimum. It’s easy to add contrast later ­ but it’s impossible to remove it if the highlights are burnt out.

firework photography long lensAs with most photo shoots you need to plan ahead a bit and do a ‘recce’. Something most people forget is that if you’re standing ‘inside the view' - ­ you can’t see it!.

So don’t get into the crush of onlookers - find an area away from the crowd so you can see the sky clearly as well as some ground action or foreground to silhouette against the fireworks.

Wide angle lenses are great if you're in fairly close - but don't dismiss shooting from further away with longer lenses. I photographed these fireworks from a field about a mile away from the display using focal lengths ranging from 45 - 200mm.

Once you've found your vantage point here's what you need to do...

  • Get there early enough to make sure you have a good view
  • Take a torch - it'll be dark during the shoot
  • Use a sturdy tripod or you'll have blurry pictures
  • Set your camera to full manual mode, shutter speed set to 'Bulb, (so it's open as long as you're pressing the button) 200 ISO and an aperture of f11
  • Estimate where in the sky the fireworks will explode and compose your shot accordingly - don't forget to include a bit of foreground interest
  • Keep re-adjusting the composition throughout the display for the different sizes of firework
  • Press the shutter just as rockets explode and hold it open to catch several bursts at once
  • Check your exposures to make sure highlights aren't burning out. If they are - decrease the aperture (increase the f-number) until they're not.
  • Keep shooting right to the end - and don't forget, the best-est biggest ones are usually saved to last.

fireworks over exposedAs you're shooting be careful not to overlay too may firework bursts over the top of each other because they'll burn out as in this image.

Aim to photograph multi firework bursts which explode in different patches of sky and you should be fine.

Take your time - displays don't last for long but if you rush and panic you'll just end up with loads of shaky rather rubbish pictures. It's always better to shoot a few great firework photographs you're dead chuffed with - rather than hundreds you're not!

This is the time of year to grab your camera and get photographing fireworks. If you'd like help improving your overall photography take a look at our photography e-courses and one-to-one photography training days.

Our beginners photography course Digital Photography Exposed will have a huge impact if you're just starting out or have been in auto mode since the day you bought the camera.

Using a camera is like driving a car - you need information, guidance from an expert and lots of practise. Our photography courses can help with all three...