The 4th of July is a few days away and I figured I’d share a quick tutorial with you on how to take photos of fireworks with your SLR or mirrorless camera. I’ll also show give you tips on how to do this with your iPhone or Android phone.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- A camera that can shoot in manual mode (you don’t even need a “fancy” or “expensive” camera!,
- A sturdy tripod,
- A remote trigger (wired is best and be sure to bring extra batteries),
- And obviously a lens (the longer of a focal length the better).
It doesn’t matter if the location is in a big city, or rural area – plan to get there early as odds are there are going to be a lot of people there and you’ll need to find a spot where you can setup a tripod. Some places won’t allow you to use a tripod (for “security” reasons), so it’s best to get there early to make sure everything is hunky dory.
If you can do your best to find out where the fireworks will be set off (so you can get a good vantage point). For now, put your camera on the tripod and make sure you have enough juice on your battery.
When the fireworks start popping off it’s time to get to work. Now keep in mind I can’t give you an exact camera setting that will work as each situation is a bit different. But I can give you a starting point…
- Set your camera to manual mode.
- Choose the lowest ISO. Something like 50, 100 or 200. The lower the better as it will give us the cleanest results. The higher the ISO the more noise (grain) the photos will have. If you’d like to make your photos brighter you can chose a higher ISO later but for now let’s chose a low number.
- Choose an aperture of f8 or f11 or f16. If you’re shooting at a location where you’d like to illuminate the city or let more light in – choose a small f stop to get more light into your camera sensor or change the ISO (but remember the lower the better). If you’re just looking to isolate the fireworks choose something like f11 or f16 to darken the background (in this case the sky). Again – your milage may vary so you’ll have to play around a bit.
In these cases I wanted to just isolate the fireworks (this is where a zoom lens helps).
In these cases the settings were a bit different. I had to make things a bit brighter as I wanted to get more of the scene in the shot…
- Now as for the shutter speed – This is where things get tricky as taking photos of fireworks is a hit-or-miss proposition so you’re going to have to play around. You’re going to find that each firework will have different durations. Some will be long and flowing wile some will be a quick burst. You’re not going to be able to get every firework that goes off so expect to get less keepers than winners. So all that being said start with a shutter speed of 8 seconds.
Long and flowing fireworks (for lack of a better phrase) will need a bit of a longer shutter speed…
Whereas the the quick burst types will need a slower shutter speed…
- If your lens has vibration reduction, be sure to turn it off as it may cause your images to be blurry. Prefocus on the a firework and put your lens into manual focus. This is key as if you don’t put the camera on manual focus your camera is going to be hunting to focus in the succeeding photos and you may miss a lot of shots.
- Now we have our camera pre-focused and our (beginning) camera settings dialed in, the next step is to connect your remote trigger. A wired remote trigger works best as if we use a wireless one we’re going to have to put our hand in front of the camera for each shot to trigger the shutter and we won’t be enjoying the moment. If we use a wired remote trigger we’ll be able to lock in the shutter and essentially “set it – and forget it”. Now if you happen to forget your remote at home (not that it’s ever happened to me) you can set a 2 second timer to trigger your camera. If you don’t use a timer or remote you’re going to introduce vibration that will ruin all of your photos.
These remote triggers work best as once you have your final settings dialed in, you can lock the trigger and it’ll keep taking photos non-stop.
- If you feel you’re missing shots, you can play with your shutter speed. Chose faster or slower shutter speeds until you feel like you have a number you’re happy with. Once you’re getting a bunch of money shots, put lock your remote trigger and it’ll keep taking photos – now you can sit back and enjoy the show!
If you don’t use a sturdy tripod or remote trigger you’ll get blurry shots and this is no bueno!
IF YOU’D LIKE TO USE YOUR IPHONE TO SHOOT FIREWORKS…
The same principles apply. Use a tripod, put your photo app on manual mode, and set your phone to take photos in intervals – perhaps something like every second.
If you’re looking to use an app, I’d suggest FiLMiC pro (click here for the link). It’s available for both IOS and Android. If you’re not crazy about this App or you’d like to save money, just look for an app that will let you shoot in manual mode.
MAY I SUGGEST…
One more thing I highly suggest to make your life easier (although not a must) is a headlamp. Even if you know your camera inside out and can make changes blindfolded – using a headlamp will make your life so much more easier.
It also come in handy when you’re walking somewhere dark. The last thing you want is to trip while you have your camera gear on you (not like this has happened to me either lol).
If you’d like to get a headlamp – use my Amazon affiliate link as this is the one I’d suggest…
Before I let you go, shooting photos of fireworks is highly rewarding and fun! Factor in the hit-or-miss aspect of things and and the effort you took to get these images and you’ll feel ecstatic.
THAT “AH HAH!” MOMENT
If you’re starting out with photography and if you give this recipe a shot I can assure you that you’ll have several “ah hah!” moments. Once you come to grips with what each setting does you’ll quickly learn how to shoot in manual mode. In fact whenever I teach people photography, my first lesson is always at night as when you make changes to the camera settings the changes are more drastic.
If you’d like to see some a behind the scenes look at what’s possible with long exposure photography, check out these videos:
THAT’S IT FOR NOW
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Be sure to share the photos with me as I’d be happy to see your results!
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