Fireworks Photos

Fireworks over Missoula, Montana, 2008

Next weekend is the Fourth of July (American Independence Day for those of you not in the States) and many people will be joining the celebration by watching fireworks displays. I encourage you to try photographing them, even if you have a simple digital point & shoot camera! It's not hard at all. Here are a few tips gleaned from the Internet.
  1. Be sure you have a tripod or other way to support the camera. Exposure times will be several seconds and you can't get crisp photos of the display by hand-holding the camera. A mini-tripod, a beanbag tripod or even the roof of your car (with the engine turned off!) can suffice.
  2. Have a clear view of the display, preferably upwind from the smoke.
  3. Bring a flashlight so you can see your camera controls.
  4. Use a wide angle zoom (lens) unless you are a long distance away (as I was for the shot included here).
  5. Select the best quality and largest size image.
  6. If you have a scene setting for fireworks, choose that. (See your instruction manual for how it adjusts your camera.)
  7. If you don't have a fireworks scene, but you can set your camera exposure manually, try the following settings.
  • Turn off the flash!
  • Use the lowest ISO setting.
  • Select Daylight (sunny) white balance (for more vivid colors).
  • Set the aperture to f5.6, f8 or f11 (I used f22 for the photo here).
  • Set the shutter speed to between 2 and 4 seconds. (Most of my successful shots were 2 or 3 seconds.)
  • Use manual focus and set it to infinity. If you don't have manual focus, try the Landscape scene setting.
Now all you have to do is wait for the show to start! You may have to practice your timing for pressing the shutter and getting the shot. Check your results for the first few frames and make any necessary adjustments to exposure.

Digital SLR owners can make use of an electronic cable release (also called a remote release) to ensure the camera stays still and to better see the explosives and time the shot. Longer exposure times let you record multiple bursts.
And consider using a vertical orientation (camera turned 90 degrees from horizontal) to give a better sense of height for the sparklers!

Remember to have plenty of batteries and memory card space for the grand finale! Enjoy!

Fireworks finale over Missoula, Montana, 2008