Shooting fireworks the right way, some very straightforward technical (and not-too-technical) notes ...

BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

If you're not happy and somewhat frustrated at the less-than-stellar pictures you got from shooting fireworks this past 4th of July weekend, and if you’re determined to get the best fireworks shots next chance you get, these tips are for you.

Photographing fireworks can be easy and simple, and most of all fun. The key is to be adequately prepared and to know what you’re doing.

 Fireworks at Keswick Park in Chamblee, Georgia, taken on the 4th of July 2015. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. To see more pictures, please visit my photography website at  www.dominiquejames.com . Thanks!

Fireworks at Keswick Park in Chamblee, Georgia, taken on the 4th of July 2015. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. To see more pictures, please visit my photography website at www.dominiquejames.com. Thanks!

From experience, here are some technical and not-too-technical notes on how to shoot fireworks the right way.

  • Use a camera, such as a DSLR, that can be set to full manual mode. This will give you total control, allowing you to capture the exact amount and quality of light.
  • Spend some time ahead of the actual shoot to get your camera’s manual settings right. The settings you need to shoot fireworks correctly and properly will be quite different from the settings you might usually use. Don’t leave this to the last minute.
  • Master all available features of your camera, features that you may not always use, that will aid you in taking proper and creative long exposures in the dark. Practicing in advance helps a lot.
  • Use a very steady but lightweight and easy to control tripod, and make sure you are thoroughly familiar with how your tripod works by feel (without even looking at it).
  • Set your camera lens focus to manual mode or preset to infinity.
  • Set your camera’s aperture to somewhere between f/16 and f/8.
  • While the sweet spot of your camera’s light sensitivity setting when shooting fireworks is usually anywhere between ISO 600 to 200, use ISO 100 to capture the most intense shimmering colors.
  • Set your camera to Bulb instead of a fixed shutter speed for complete flexibility. This will give you a more accurate control of exposure time.
  • Use a shutter release cable to help dramatically reduce physical camera shake, and to allow for a far more comfortable, easier and controlled shooting cadence.
  • The best way to get the smoothest and sharpest fireworks bursts is by totally getting rid of the camera’s micro movement using the Mirror-up mode.
  • If you are close enough to the fireworks, use an ultra wide zoom lens instead of normal or telephoto lens, aimed at the widest possible expanse of night sky.
  • For added interest, and to ground your composition, add other elements in your fireworks composition such as a famous landmark, a familiar landscape, or even identifiable silhouettes.
  • Fireworks create a lot of smoke that you don’t normally see in the dark but can be captured in your shots. If you want to get just the colorful fireworks, adjust the aim of your camera more towards the highest possible night sky area where you anticipate the fireworks will burst rather than the lower portion where smoke tends to be more dense.
  • Be at the shooting area as early as possible in order to scout the right location to setup where you can avoid obstruction of view and possible mishap from pedestrian traffic. 
  • Give yourself ample time to properly set up your camera and tripod and shutter release cable. In fact, set up everything way ahead of time on location when there’s still plenty of available daylight. You won’t get much of a chance to fuss once the fireworks show starts.
  • With an appropriate carry bag, choose and bring only the most essential and the most portable equipment, and avoid heavy or bulky stuff, when going to a location to setup for a fireworks shoot.
  • As much as possible, don’t shoot fireworks alone. Ask others to join you even if they are not shooting. Having companions is safer, and more fun.
  • Bring flashlight. Adjusting or dismantling your setup will be far easier, faster and safer when you can see what you’re doing. Also, before leaving the area, sweep the surrounding area with light to make sure nothing you brought, specially small pieces that might have inadvertently fallen off, will be left behind.

There are a few other things to learn in capturing great fireworks, but overall, the above technical and not-too-technical notes will get you all set.

Enjoy shooting fireworks, have fun!