Learning how to photograph fireworks is one of the most frustrating things that we’ve ever tried to learn. We’ve taught ourselves and most of what we now know, we learned by trial and error, or more accurately, experiment, refine and repeat. To get the perfect shot of fireworks requires the patience of a saint and the planning of an engineer. We started photographing fireworks a few years back and we’ve made some pretty dreadful mistakes. We’ve also had some great productive sessions. We’ve put together a few tips to get you started on taking better shots of fireworks and included a short tribute to a great fireworks photographer.
How to Photograph Fireworks: Tips from two dedicated amateurs
- Do your research online to see if you can find any published photos of the fireworks event that you are attending. Check out the shots and choose the ones that you like best. Once you have the shot or shots that you like, go to Google Maps and try to determine the location. You can use street view and satellite view to pinpoint the area. Very often you can look at the lay of the land and the geographical characteristics and make an educated guess at the exact location. You can even get some free information on the EXIF information. For example, you can find photos on Flickr of the fireworks taken in previous years that will give you the exposure, the ISO and other settings used in really outstanding photos. In this way, you won’t be totally shooting in the dark (haha, I know). That is how we created some of our best shots ever.
- Arrive extremely early to choose your spot or to find the location that you picked out on Google Maps. When you get there early, you can ask the show organizers to help you locate the fireworks staging area. You’ll need to know this exact location so that you can point the camera right at it. Then you will need to estimate how far back to set up and what else to include in the frame of your photographs. This entire process can get complicated and drawn out. It also might require a lot of walking to pick out just the right spot. One good idea is to do this the day before the fireworks show. That way you can take some test shots to see what you like best.
- Don’t even try to take a photograph of fireworks without a really steady tripod and a remote shutter release cable. This tip alone will make your photographs 1000 % better.
- Claim your spot early and spread out. You are going to choose a premium spot to take your shots. You are going to lay claims to this spot hours before the crowds arrive. By the time the first shot goes off, entire families will move in and let their children bump into your tripod. Other photographers or television crews will come and set up in front of you. I know all of this from experience. It has happened to me.
- Bring more than one camera if you can so that you can use one for great landscape shots and another one for great detail shots.
How to Photograph Fireworks: Gallery click to see larger version
Here’s a list of the photographs shown in the gallery above:
- Brilliant fireworks display featuring a multicolored Chrysanthemum burst of green, purple, red and hints of blue streamers or trails of sparks.
- Purple Pyro Photo: Purple Chrysanthemum
- Boston Massachusetts Fireworks July 4th © e2dan/Shutterstock
- multicolored Ring Fireworks, in green, red, blue and white
- multicolored Peony burst of gold, white and purple streamers with white or silver star bursts
- Fireworks at the park with friends by Adam Baker, see below
- Red & White or Silver Chrysanthemum
- Brilliant fuchsia or purple fireworks display featuring a white and fuchsia Chrysanthemum burst of streamers
- multicolored Chrysanthemum burst of yellow, purple, red, green and blue streamers or trails of sparks
- Big White Chrysanthemum (with red streak and willow streamers?)
- Patriotic Pyrotechnics Photo: fireworks display featuring a red, white and blue Chrysanthemum
- Deep Purple & Gold Chrysanthemum Fireworks Shell
How to Photograph Fireworks: Learning from Masters
When I was learning how to photograph fireworks I found the work of Bob Jagendorf. He’s one of my favorite photographers of all-time. His images of the Macy’s Fireworks blew me away when I first saw them. I never studied with him or met him, but he taught me a lot by simply being open and generous. His photos on Flickr list with all of the EXIF metadata there for everyone to study. Especially relevant for our purposes here are the ISO, exposure, and aperture settings. I suggest that you write down the settings of the photographs that you like the most and try them out for yourself. That is exactly what I did to get the results below.
This is the photograph that we found on Flickr:
and this is the photograph that we took as our tribute to Bob:
Shown below is another one of Bob’s fireworks photos. Bob passed away in October of 2013. We deeply regret that he has left us. His work will endure forever because it was and is, brilliant and unique.
Photographing Fireworks: Learn More
- How to article from Nikon
- Digital Photography School Fireworks Tips
- Digital Photography School article on tripods
- More resources
See our Other Fireworks Guides:
Northeast Massachusetts Fireworks
Essex, Middlesex & Suffolk County Fireworks
Southeast Massachusetts Fireworks
Norfolk, Plymouth, Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes & Nantucket County Fireworks
Central Massachusetts Fireworks
Worcester County Fireworks
Western Massachusetts Fireworks
Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden & Berkshire County Fireworks