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Basic Tips and Techniques in Photographing Fireworks

Shot at Jumeirah Beach during the Atlantis Hotel Opening, Dubai UAE

Shooting fireworks is fun and easy

After posting some fireworks photos in this blog and in The Science and Art of Photography, a lot of people were asking me tips on shooting fireworks.  They got inspired by the photos and want to go to the 3rd Philippine International Pyromusical Competition and photograph the fireworks display as well.  Due to popular demand, here are the tips and techniques I use when shooting fireworks. This is the basic technique to capture photos of fireworks using the light trail long exposure method:


  • Camera with Manual Aperture and Shutter Speed Settings including Bulb Mode
  • A fixed wide angle lens (~ 24mm full frame 17mm cropped sensors) or zoom with similar wide angle focal length.  Kit lens set to the widest focal length are ideal.  This is applicable if you are near/mid distance to the venue. If you are very far, you might require a longer focal length
  • Tripod:  A must to get sharper and better fireworks photos.  Can be optional but beyond the scope of this post
  • Remote release cable or device (optional but without it, timing can be more difficult)

Location and Setup

  • Arrive earlier at the venue so you can survey and get a good spot
  • Some prefer fireworks only shoots against the sky and background. For beginners, I advise these to gain experience in shooting fireworks before including foreground elements like people, buildings, and landmarks which makes it more complicated.
  • Check direction and velocity of wind.  If wind is going towards the camera, smoke will build up and show in your photos. Shoot more earlier in the sequence on non-windy days.  The smoke accumulates and the later fireworks will be less contrasty.
  • In some events, they usually do test firing of the fireworks.  This can be used to compose your framing and test your exposure.
  • Remember/approximate the edges of your framing so that you have an idea what will be include or not in your framing. These is useful if you are turning off your LCD preview. Alternative is have your preview on and look at it occasionally for verification or adjustment.

Camera Setup and Settings:

  • Mount your camera to a tripod.  Watch your horizons to make sure that its not tilted. Adjust tripod legs and head accordingly.
  • Connect a shutter release cable so that you can release the shutter without moving the camera.  If you don’t have a shutter release cable, you can use the 2-second self-timer.  However, this will make timing your shots more difficult. Make sure that your camera is off before connecting or disconnecting any attachments.
  • Set your camera to Manual (M) mode
  • Use the lowest ISO possible, usually ISO 100, to get the least noise and get cleaner, higher contrast shots.
  • Set focus to manual.  Autofocus might not work as fast and you will miss a lot of shots.  Focus on the distance where the fireworks will be fired.  If you can locate the launching pad, focus there or anywhere in the similar distance.  This most of the time is far and focus to almost the lens infinity settings. Also remember that if you zoom/change your focal length, please re-adjust your focus.
  • Adjust to White Balance to Daylight or Tungsten.  Tungsten will give the true color but some people prefer daylight for the warmer colors. I usually shoot RAW so I can choose later which WB matches selected photos, in addition to insurance to exposure issues.
  • Set the shutter speed to Bulb (B) settings.  Bulb mode allows you to control the how much time the shutter will be open to expose the picture instead of using a fixed shutter speed
  • Set aperture initially to f/11.  Fireworks are usually bright and can be photographed with smaller apertures. The aperture should be adjusted in relation to the brightness of the fireworks.  Open-up (bigger aperture hole, lower number) to f/8 or more if your initial shots does not look well exposed.  On the reverse, stop-down (smaller aperture, higher number) to f/16 if your shots look over-exposed.
  • Adjust camera framing portrait or landscape. I usually use landscape for wider shoots and crop them latter to get portrait shots or take only a few portrait shots. Make sure you leave some space for bigger shells and wider multiple shells explosion.  Since your camera is mounted on a tripod, it’s not advisable to be switching to portrait/landscape mode because it takes time to switch and lose some of the fireworks. 

Actual Shooting

Press the remote release button to start exposing and hold it pressed.  As long as you don’t release the button, the shutter is open to capture the fireworks. Release the button to finish exposure.

Press the button when the firework is launch or about to explode and hold the button pressed until firework shell finished exploding.  This usually last a few seconds.  Your timing of pressing the button will results in these two variations:

1. Late timed shots without launch light trail (tree trunk like trail)
2. Early timed shots to include launch to create light trail of launch (tree trunk like trail)

Please note that some of the fireworks actually do not create a light trail when launch but only when they explode.  So timing variations to create launch trail does not apply to these type, however, timing is still important to press just before or on the explosion to create a better explosion light trail (flower light trail)

The number of layers/overlays of fireworks depends on two factors:

  • the rate of firing (how often the fireworks are launched)
  • your exposure time (how long before you released the button after pressing it)

During the slow rate of fire, make your exposure short 1-3 seconds for simple layered shot.

Simple layered shots: 3 secs at f/8 ISO 100

Alternatively, expose longer, 4-10 seconds for multi-layer (3 or more fireworks sequence)

Exposed longer at 9 sec @ f/11 ISO 100 to create more layers and variety of fireworks

Just be careful not to expose to long especially if there are repeating shots in the same area or a sequence of fireworks in the base like fountains.  This will lead to overexposure.

Prolonged exposure and/or repeated fireworks at same area leads to overexposure

Near the finale or in some peaks of the performance (and sometimes in the Intro!), the rate of firing will increase so you will get more layers of fireworks even you expose shortly.  This was in the finale so even in 2 seconds of exposure, the photo had more layers.

Finales/Peaks: More layers even at 2 seconds at f/13 ISO 100

Track results every few batches to make sure there are no issues in focus and exposure.

Remember if you zoom in or out, check your focus again.

Adjust aperture accordingly to adjust to intensity of fireworks.  There are weaker fireworks at slow parts and very bright explosive ones during the finale.

Since you are shooting with a digital camera, take a lot of photos since it’s no cost anyway.  Try different varieties: simple layer, multi-layered, wide shots, zoomed shots, etc…

Shooting fireworks is fun and easy! Enjoy shooting your fireworks display.

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