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How to take photos of fireworks

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

green, red, pink, blue fireworks exploding

With Canada Day around the corner, there's bound to be a lot of fireworks! They are a lot of fun. But, they can be surprisingly difficult to photograph. The guide below should help take some excellent photos of the celebration!

Making sure you have the right equipment is essential. At a minimum, you will need a camera capable of manual exposure setting and a tripod. Set your camera to manual. On the top of the camera, set the dial to M. Verify the M shows up on the screen. I'll be using my Sony Alpha 7ii for this demonstration. Other cameras work in a very similar fashion. Also, make sure you are shooting RAW. This will make the processing in Lightroom much easier.

sony digital mirrorless camera showing M for manual exposure settings mode
info screen on sony mirrorless camera showing camera exposure settings in manual

Before it gets dark and the show starts, scout out the area. Make sure there is an unobstructed view of the fireworks. Try to get a view clear of street lights, buildings, fences, people etc. If it's windy, it's preferable to be up wind. As the show goes on, a large smoke cloud will form from the exploded fireworks. If you are downwind, the smoke cloud will start to shroud you obscuring the fireworks and making your photos hazy and blurry. It's also important to make sure there is a clear spot for you to set up your tripod.

camera on tripod with clear view of the sky

To set the exposure time, try to match the shutter speed to the duration of the firework burst from launching off the ground to "BOOM" to colorful trails floating down to the ground. The very top example picture was taken with 2s shutter speed, f/9.0 and ISO400. Depending on how enthusiastic your local fireworks show is, a longer or shorter exposure may be needed. There is no hard and fast rule here. It's important to review the photos immediately on the camera. We are checking for adequate exposure, correct framing, and length/size of the fireworks bursts (Do they look good?). Longer than about 5s can be tricky due to the smoke as mentioned before. I've also found shorter than about 0.5s doesn't work either. With a shorter exposure time, you need to be very precise with your timing/reactions to capture the entire burst.

I set the aperture to f/9.0 to make focusing more forgiving and ensure the entire globe of the firework burst is as sharp as possible. A wider or narrower aperture may work better for you. If you're having trouble focusing consider narrowing the aperture. If you need more light and are already maxed on exposure time, a wider aperture will help. However, I would suggest increasing the ISO before making the aperture too wide. Fireworks are usually quite bright so getting enough light shouldn't be an issue.

Lastly, the drive mode needs to be changed from single frame to self timer. This will let the vibrations from pushing the shutter button settle down. A remote shutter control is the best option. My camera also has a "burst" option where it waits 10 seconds then shoots 5 frames in succession. If your camera has it, this can also a good option.

changing drive mode on the sony camera to self timer 2 seconds
changing drive mode to self timer 10 seconds, 5 images

Post Processing in Lightroom

After the fireworks show, the images need to be developed and processed in Lightroom. Here we can tweak the white balance, exposure, contrast etc.

raw image in lightroom before processing

Above is a picture I took of the New Year's Eve fireworks in 2016 with no adjustments. First, I cropped the empty darkness (and edge of a fence in the bottom right corner) to focus on the fireworks. I like to use the Auto settings as a starting point. I did that for the White Balance and Tone Control for this image. I then boosted the Contrast, darkened the Blacks, and maxed out the Vibrance.

finished image showing lightroom processing settings

Don't be afraid to set the sliders to some pretty extreme values. The Color Temperature and Tint can be especially fun. Below are a few examples.

full screen version of the processed image
same base image but with color temperature and tint adjusted
same base image but with color temperature and tint adjusted in a different way
same base image but with color temperature and tint adjusted another different way

Happy Canada Day!

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