Happy Fourth of July

With the nation celebrating its independence today, there are sure to be firework displays in your area at some time during the week. I have been photographing these lighted spectacles for many years and always look forward to shooting the next one.

Getting a good final image isn’t a difficult task, but it does require a few things for success. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:

  • Plan: If you have been to the same place in previous years, you are already at an advantage. Think about where you can photograph (with a tripod…see next tip) to capture something interesting to go along with the fireworks. Reflections, spectators, boats, etc… If you haven’t been to the location before, get there early and find out where they will be launched from and then explore for a good spot where you can get that good foreground detail along with the exploding lights.
  • Use a tripod: You can photograph fireworks without one, but your options are limited and you need to be pretty close to the action. I like to get some details in the foreground from the ambient light. That requires a long exposure as does trying to capture many bursts in order to fill up the frame.
  • Be prepared to move: If your location isn’t packed full of people, be prepared to move if the fireworks aren’t going off in the spot you originally thought. Look around before they begin so you know of a couple alternative locations just in case.
  • Take a lot of photos: fireworks are chaotic by nature. It is hard to predict exactly when and where they will explode, so even having a perfect exposure won’t guarantee a good photograph. The length of most events is less than 30 minutes. I tend to shoot between 150 to 200 shots in that time. It may sound like overkill, but it insures enough choices in edit for me to be happy with the results.
  • Settings: Getting the settings right in the camera usually only takes a few photos at the beginning. I always shoot fireworks in manual mode and begin at f/8 for the aperture and use the “bulb” setting for the speed. This setting allows me to use a remote control to trigger when the shutter opens and when it closes so I can decide when I think there has been enough illumination to get a good exposure. It takes some trial and error, but a quick glance at the LCD screen gives a good idea of how long to keep the shutter open for the next shot. If I think the shot needs more foreground exposure, I will dial the f-stop down or increase the shutter length. If the fireworks are too bright and blown out, I will increase the f-stop or shorten the shutter speed.
  • Have fun: There is a lot to think about when shooting fireworks. Don’t forget to stand back and enjoy what’s happening in front of you. Some practice will help make that more achievable, but unless it’s a paying assignment, there is no reason to let the show go off without your attention to the true beauty going on in person. You can get some magical shots, but it will be hard to convey how dynamic they truly are.


Fireworks in the Cape

After a long day at the beach back on July 3rd, 2011, I ventured off for some scenic sunset shots over the bay from Gray’s Beach in Dennis, MA. I was already planning some firework shots for the following day, but was pleasantly surprised when some started going off somewhere near Chaipin Beach Road to my east. Anytime you can be near water for fireworks is a bonus. The reflections help to complete the composition and fill the frame.

Cape Cod Fireworks

Have a great day everyone! Happy shooting!


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