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The secret behind stunning fireworks photography

The secret behind stunning fireworks photography

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New Years’ Eve is coming up, and that can only mean one thing for landscape photographers — it’s fireworks season. I’m going to show you in this video how you can take stunning photos of fireworks. So, number one, here’s the quick equipment list. You’re going to need a tripod in order to keep that camera still. I suggest a 24 to 70 mm lens since you don’t want it to be too wide-angle. 

Fireworks shot that didn't work
What happens when something’s off with your settings. In this case, my shutter speed was too quick, and I accidently hit my tripod. So not only was the image blurry, but I only captured this tiny bit of the firework burst.

And you need some sort of a remote shutter so you don’t have to touch the camera in order to trigger it. The remote shutter is important because you’re going to have to time your shots just before the fireworks burst. Otherwise, if you use a 2-second you’ll come home with hundreds of uninspiring half-bursts. Or worse, if you release the shutter with the shutter button, you’ll introduce a lot of camera shake and come home with a card full of blurry images. 

The settings that you’re going to want for your camera, you want it to be in manual focus. Then you want manual mode, ISO 100, choose an F/8 aperture, and then a 4-second shutter speed. If you don’t have your shutter speed that long, then you’re going to miss out on some of the firework action. 

Set up your shot in advance

Rule number 1 for taking great photos is you’ve got to get to the venue early. The best case is to get there a couple of hours before everyone else. And if it’s winter, put on your long johns, bring a hot thermos, and store your batteries inside your coat so they don’t prematurely lose their charge. Number 2, you need to find a place that’s either up high so you’ll have an unobstructed view. Or you can find a location that’s in front of a barrier or a fence. So in this example, I had 100,000 people behind me, but the view that I saw was completely unobstructed. This is because I was up against a fence. 

The key to getting a good fireworks shot is to plan ahead. If you can scout the location a day or two in advance, you’ll be much more likely to take stunning photos. Winging it and hoping for the best on the day of will either land you in a bad, or over-crowded spot. 

Just before it gets dark, you’re going to want to set your focus on an object that is as close as possible to where the fireworks are going to be set off. You don’t want your camera searching for an automatic focus point when it’s nighttime, because it won’t be able to do it. Then when the fireworks start, you want to try and time your shutter triggers for when the explosions happen.

Fireworks photography in Paris
When you plan ahead and get all of your settings just right, you’ll be able to capture stunning fireworks displays like this.

Build on your editing process with presets

And that way you’re going to be able to get fantastic photos, just like these ones here. And after you’ve taken the photos, you’re going to need to edit them in Photoshop or Lightroom. The quickest way to create stunning photographs in post-production is to use presets. These are wonderful tools that every pro photographer creates in order to keep their work efficient and consistent image to image.

If you want to get an idea of what presets can do for your own photography, take a look at my Lightroom Preset pack. I’ve developed these presets over my award-winning career as a photographer. And they’ve been immensely helpful in developing my personal photographic style.

So that is how you take great fireworks photos. I wish you the best of luck with your fireworks photography!

Tim Shields

Tim Shields is the founder of Photography Academy, the author of The Photo Cookbook, and the creator of the Photography Transformation 4-Step System. He holds the designation of Master Photographer in Fine Art from Master Photographers International.