1. Fourth of July fireworks photography starts well in advance with a bit of research and scouting. Use the Internet or call local authorities to know from where the fireworks will be launched, so you can determine what part of the sky most of them should appear. With this information, visit the site of your community’s fireworks show to choose one or more ideal locations to have an unobstructed (hopefully) view of that portion of the sky.
2. When you’re on the phone with local authorities or the fireworks organizer, ask about any rules pertaining to photographing the show. Is there any restriction on lens size for security reasons? You wouldn’t want security personnel to mistake your long lens for a weapon. Can you bring a tripod? Is there a photography area reserved for media and can you gain access to IT? As best as you can, check to be sure that the shooting locations you’ve chosen won’t be behind a temporary grandstand or other structure during the fireworks show.
3. The correct equipment for fireworks photography isn’t particularly elaborate, but you’ll need a camera with a manual mode to control exposure and focus. Many digital cameras, especially compacts, don’t read low light very well in the auto-focus mode.
A wide-angle lens and/or a short telephoto is all you need. A 24–120mm, or similar, telephoto should provide plenty of focal length options. Like excellent landscape photography, the wide-angle view will allow you to position a near object in the foreground to give your fireworks photos more dimension and interest. The longer focal lengths are just right for people-reaction shots and group photos.
A tripod is also an essential piece of equipment as well as a cable or wireless remote triggering device, so you can avoid touching the camera to release the shutter.
With this small amount of equipment, you may be able to leave your camera bag at home, or use a small shoulder-type bag. A photographer’s vest is another excellent option, which gives you plenty of pockets for memory cards, batteries, etc. and keep the camera securely in your hands.
4. Arrive early at the fireworks location, so you can claim enough space for your tripod. Plus, you may discover interesting images to record as spectators arrive and the sky moves from sunset into twilight. If the fireworks display is in the center of a large city, there may also be excellent cityscapes to capture from your position.
5. The trick to excellent fireworks photography is placing your equipment in the right position and the best angle, framing the area of the sky where the explosions are to take place, and then watch the sky as you release the shutter. You don’t want to be constantly looking through the viewfinder because you may move the camera during an exposure at a slow shutter speed. You may also miss the image you wanted, which is why you must discipline yourself to watch the sky, so you can anticipate when an explosion will occur.
6. Your exposure formula for fireworks photography is rather straightforward. First, leave your ISO on its “normal” setting, which is ISO 100 for most cameras. Second, in terms of aperture, you want to use a stop in the f/8–f/16 range. The camera will read the explosions as being very bright, so you don’t want the wider aperture the camera might select automatically. Lastly, you have many shutter speed options. Select a fast speed to freeze the display or a slower speed to capture the motion of the cascading color and light. You may even want to try the B, or bulb setting, and leave the shutter open for a number of seconds before you manually release it.
7. After you’ve shot the first few frames—without looking through the viewfinder—check the images you’ve recorded to make sure the framing is good and that you are anticipating the explosions. Make any adjustments to the angle of the camera and your shutter release timing before your next series of fireworks photos. Continue to check your images occasionally until you become thoroughly familiar with this shooting technique.
8. Don't spend all your time photographing the fireworks. Look for facial reactions from spectators, especially children, as well as moments when the colors of the fireworks reflect off spectators and their faces.
This is the summer to take a big leap forward in your photography skills, so you can take extraordinary fireworks, and many other types, of photos. Click here for more helpful tips and techniques.
People who read this PhotographyTalk.com article also liked:
Your feedback is important to thousands of PhotographyTalk.com fans and us. If this article is helpful, then please click the Like and Re-Tweet buttons at the top left of this article.
Photograph by Photography Talk Member Kay