How To Photograph Fireworks

G’day Travelers! After enjoying the local fireworks during NYE and getting asked plenty of questions. I thought I’d put together a blog post with a few of my tips on how to photograph fireworks.

I don’t get much of an opportunity to photograph fireworks in Australia. As a general rule personal fireworks are illegal in Australia, with a some minor exceptions. So I try to make the most of the special opportunities, when they come up, to photography professional fireworks displays. Like New Years Eve and Australia Day.

So here are my go to tips and starting points for photographing fireworks.

Gosford NYE Fireworks

Steady Platform

The first thing you are going to need is to have a steady platform for your camera. Ideally you’ll have a tripod setup, but if you don’t have one, you’ll need to able to set up your camera on something solid so it wont move during the shots. This is going to allow you to use the longer shutter speeds you need to get the great photos.

If you’ve got your camera setup on a tripod. The next thing I’d recommend you do is turn off any in camera/lens stabilisation you might have. Different cameras have different types of stabilisation, so you might need to refer to your camera’s manual for how to do that. But once your camera is set up on a solid platform, any stabilisation the camera might try to do will only introduce unwanted movement/blur into your photos.

Manual Focus and lots of Depth of Field

Fireworks are somewhat unpredictable. However autofocusing at night isn’t really a going to give you much in the way of good results. Most autofocus systems require some sort of contrast to grab focus, and once everything is dark it’s really hard for it to pick up where to focus.

Instead try to use a narrow aperture (something between f8 and f11 as a starting point) to give yourself lots of depth of field and then try to manually focus on something, preferably a light point where you think the fireworks might be, to get the shot. The larger depth of field should give a little bit of leeway to make sure the fireworks are sharp.

Always check the first couple of photos on the back of the camera (zoom right in) to make the are in focus so you don’t end up with a memory card full of blurry photos.

Also make sure your autofocus is turned off, so the camera doesn’t then try to refocus when you take the shot.

Shutter Speed

Now that your camera is set up on a steady platform and you’ve got your camera setup with a narrow aperture. We need to have a look at the shutter speed. To get a good exposure at night with a narrow aperture, we’ll need to have a long shutter speed to get a good photo. Particularly with a low ISO.

I tend to start with a shutter speed of 2 seconds, but you can experiment with speeds from between 1 second and 30 seconds to give yourself different effects with the fireworks.

The thing with photographing fireworks is… the fireworks are your light source. So your camera’s exposure meter will tell you the shot is going to be very under exposed, but that’s ok. The longer the shutter is open the more firework bursts will be in your photo.

One Last Thing…

If your really want to take great photos, particularly of fireworks. You need to learn how to use your camera in Manual mode. Dialling in the settings you want to get a photo will give you a much better result than anything the camera will try to do automatically. Particularly at night. So read the manual or take a lesson, but learn how to get your camera into manual mode and how to use the settings to your advantage.

Gosford NYE Fireworks

That wraps up my tips on how to photograph fireworks. Let me know what you think of these photography tips in the comments below. If you are looking for more travel specific photography tips, check out this blog post.

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About the Author: Rhys Vandersyde

Traveler, Photographer, Content Creator. I've spent the last 10 years exploring all over the world, but there is still plenty more to see.

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