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How to photograph fireworks

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: weddings, social, events, photography, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips, night_photography, fireworks

When the summer sets in, the heatwave usually comes accompanied by joyous celebrations all around the world, many enhanced by fireworks displays. Below, how I photograph them.

Editor's note: This article talks about using film, but the tips can just as well be applied using your DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Enjoy!


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On a 4th of July. f/8, 5 seconds on ISO 100 color negative film

This is the recipe I use, and I seem to get quite nice results. It is this easy, and don't make it any harder, dang it!

  1. If your are still using film, get 3 rolls of 100 ISO color negative film or just set your DSLR at ISO 100. Exactly 3 are required, or one good sized CF card, unless you're in Idaho Falls, ID for the 4th of July or in Mexico City for the 15th of September; then take 5 rolls or three CF good sized cards.
  2. Set the camera on a sturdy tripod and lock up the legs really good.
  3. Set the f/stop between f/8-f/11. Remember, you are recording burning chemicals (or electrons!) and they're very bright (or very small). Forget that the sky is black, f/8-f/11 will leave it that way.
  4. Set the hyperfocal distance for f/5.6, almost always better than to focus at infinity. DON'T TOUCH THE FOCUS AGAIN all night, for the fireworks session.
  5. Load 1st roll, or CF card and set the shutter on B (bulb). Use your viewfinder to compose on the first few bursts - frame to cover about 50% more than the first few bursts cover. DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES YET !!!
  6. Now, look up at the sky and listen very carefully to the shells igniting on the ground... don't look through your camera again.
  7. Open the shutter when you see some rockets starting to go up. Watch, and release the shutter after a FEW trails happen, but for no more than 3 seconds. Count to yourself. I call this "exposure al dente".
  8. Check the framing occasionally to make sure you aren't missing the fireworks. Repeat until all film is gone. Oh, no magic camera required, it works like a hose.



Most people OVEREXPOSE (i.e. too long shutter speed, or too open f/stop) thinking it's dark and they need lots of light on the film. Don't! Again, you are taking pictures of burning chemicals which are very bright.

As far as getting foreground objects, buildings or city lights, the answer is easy: figure out the right exposure for the foreground and shoot them all for that amount of time. You will need to shoot more of course to capture nice screamers.


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We North Americans like to have fireworks every 4th of July, or any night at Disney World. We know for a fact that Mexicans do have them at least after all major soccer game finals and nation-wide on the 5th of May, 15th of September and 20th of November. All 140 nations represented now in this community certainly must have them. 


As happy as I may be with my sample shots above, it is always nicer to have a landmark clearly visible in the foreground or background.

Click on the image at right to enjoy the extraordinary image captured by Nikonian Albert Valentino (Valentino), with the Empire State Building, from the New Jersey shore.


Manhattan - 4th of July - Click for enlargement

Here, another, from Nikonian Stephen Wellman (Cammy) with a Washington, D.C. landmark. Click on it to see an enlargement.  

Washingtong, DC. Click for enlarghement


So try it next time and don't forget to show us your results.

Editor's note: This article was written by former member Lyle Stavast. Thank you for your contribution to the community!

(9 Votes )

Originally written on March 29, 2011

Last updated on July 3, 2022

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 46140 posts

1 comment

Luther Bolen (Aaaluther69) on July 2, 2016

Very nice---