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Photographing Fireworks: A Tutorial

EOS 60D, EF40mm f/2.8 STM lens, f/10.0, 40mm, 7secs, ISO100 by Channone Arif

The pyrotechnic shoots upwards, leaving a trail of thin flares gently swallowed by the vast, dark sky. For a split second, there is silence and the night sky stands still. The suspense is followed by an explosion so massive it sets the sky ablaze. A spherical break of stars burst into colours – green, red, purple, gold… a display of works thoughtfully crafted by a pyrotechnician.

Fireworks have been used to accompany many festivities, as well as celebratory occasions from as early as the seventh century. Besides a display of dazzling colours and patterns, the oft spectacular fireworks also evoke emotions and memories. A Japanese matsuri, a nation’s independence day, New Year’s Eve… Capture these magnificent moments as the sky erupts in colours with these photography tips.

Frame Your Shot

To get the best possible composition, arrive early to the location to secure an unobstructed view. Also consider the foreground and background of your shot carefully before settling on a spot. Framing your shot includes understanding the landscape – the horizon, cityscape, near/far elements, as well as maintaining an even/straight camera frame. If you know exactly where the fireworks will be set off, head down a couple of days before to recce the site.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, f/11.0, 28mm, 1sec, ISO200 by Dennis Wong

Use a Tripod

To capture fireworks under low light conditions, a tripod is necessary to reduce camera shake as much as possible. Slow shutter speed means having the camera’s shutter opened for a longer exposure, and if disturbed by movements or camera shake, it can ruin the shot.

Complement with a Remote Release

A tripod set up may not be enough to reduce camera shake to the minimum, which is why it is advisable to couple it with a remote release, which allows you to take the shots while keeping your camera absolutely still.

Shutter Speed Matters

Understanding shutter speed is crucial when shooting fireworks. To create beautiful ‘motion blur’ as the fireworks illuminate the sky, switch to Bulb setting, hit and hold the shutter or remote release until the firework sequence finishes (remember not to hold too long so as to avoid overexposing the photo).

EOS 650D, EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens, f/8.0, 191mm, 3.2secs, ISO100 by Stephane Leignier

So Does ISO

For a clean shot with minimal noise, turn the ISO setting to 100. The nature of firework does not require a high ISO range thanks to its brightness.

EOS 7D, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens, f/2.8, 70.0mm, 1/8secs, ISO100 by Chad Cooper

Set the Right Aperture

There is no need for a shallow depth of field when shooting fireworks, thus the aperture setting can range from mid to small (f/8 to f/16) for the sharpest results.

Never Use Live View

Your camera’s Live View mode can be extremely useful in situations such as high, low and difficult angles, as well as for video recording. However, that is not the case for shooting fireworks. Long exposure takes up a substantial amount of battery life, and to shoot in Live View mode will only drain your battery quicker.

Shoot Early

The pyrotechnic stars shine the brightest and most beautiful in clear, dark skies. Thus it is best to shoot the fireworks as early as possible, as smoke and haze would start to cloud the sky after the first few bursts.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF28mm f/1.8 USM lens, f/9.0, 28.0mm, 4secs, ISO200 by George Alexander Ishida Newman


Quick Tips:

  • While framing your shot, consider your background, foreground and height of the fireworks.
  • Use a tripod to minimise camera shake.
  • Further reduce camera shake by using a remote release (or the Canon Camera Connect app) instead of pressing the shutter button.
  • To adjust shutter speed, switch to Bulb Setting.
  • Set ISO to 100-200, and aperture setting of f/8 to f/16.
  • Avoid using camera Live View to conserve battery.
  • Shoot early to avoid smoky sky caused by fireworks.



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Darren Wong

A writer on the weekdays and an amateur photographer on his day off, Darren enjoys both tremendously, and not forgetting good coffee, inspiring designs, beautiful movies, and exotic travels. Darren also believes that good conversations feed the soul of a writer, for there is nothing more invigorating than an inspiring exchange of ideas. For more of his works, visit www.darrenwphotography.com