How to photograph fireworks

Anne JohnstonPhotography tips and inspirationLeave a Comment

How to photograph fireworks for beginners

Photographing fireworks isn’t something you get the opportunity to do every day. Whether you’re heading out to photograph fireworks on Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve or Independence Day I’m going to share with you how to photograph fireworks so you can nail your shots and have photos to remember.

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Gear you need to photograph fireworks


Taking awesome fireworks photos doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. A lot of it comes down to preparation. First of all, here are a few items I recommend you have with you:


1. Camera

This one goes without saying! These tips apply for DSLR, mirrorless and bridge cameras but if you use a point and shoot compact camera don’t despair as I will include some tips at the end especially for you too.


2. Lens

This comes down to personal choice so it’s worth visiting your location in advance so you can decide whether to use a wide angle lens or perhaps a telephoto to get you closer to the action. You don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark trying to change lenses.


3. Tripod

You will be setting your camera to expose for a few seconds so be sure to use a tripod to steady your camera.

Here’s a couple of tripods I recommend:


Benro IT15 Tripod Kit

Buy the Benro IT15 Tripod Kit on Amazon:

Manfrotto Befree Carbon Fibre Travel Tripod with Ball Head

Buy the Manfrotto Befree Carbon Fibre Travel Tripod with Ball Head on Amazon:

4. Wireless remote control

The slightest movement can affect your photos. Using a remote release means you can take your photos without having to touch your camera which will help to reduce your chance of blurry photos.

My gadget of choice is the Hahnel Giga T Pro II but there are lots of others on the market too.

Buy the Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Remote Control on Amazon (for Canon):

Buy the Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Remote Control on Amazon (for Nikon):

Buy the Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Remote Control on Amazon (for Sony):


5. Torch

Whether it’s hand-held or on your head, a torch will help you see what you’re doing in the dark. Just remember to turn it off when you’re taking the photos, unless you actually want to experiment and paint with light at the same time as photographing fireworks.

6. Batteries

Charge up all your batteries before you go and if you have spares, remember to pack them. Your camera will use a lot of juice!

7. Cosy clothes

This is always a must for me living in Scotland. You don’t want to be freezing cold when you should be enjoying the show so remember to wrap up warm if you’re in a cold climate.


Where to photograph fireworks


Location is key so take some time during the day when you can see in daylight and choose which lens you’re going to use to save having to change lenses in the dark.

You’ll often find that the most popular vantage points are lined up with photographers so if you arrive early you will get the spot you want and make sure you don’t miss out.

Fireworks display in Arbroath

Fireworks display in Arbroath


Camera preparation you can do at home


Before you get on your winter woolies (if you’re in Scotland like me, you’re going to need them!), there are a few things you can do to prepare your camera at home before you even step out the door.



Personally I always shoot in RAW as it gives me more flexibility when editing. The downside of shooting in RAW is the big file size so if you’re tight for space you can shoot in JPEG. It’s up to you.


Exposure mode

Set your camera to manual mode so you can have full control over your camera.



Set the ISO low to either 100 or 200.

If you leave it on auto ISO, the camera will select a high ISO when you photograph in the dark which you don’t need as fireworks emit a very bright light.


Drive mode

Set it to single shot if you’re using a remote release or you might want to use a 2 second timer if you’re not using a remote release to try to eliminate vibrations caused by the camera moving.


White balance

I usually use daylight for fireworks although it’s worth remembering that if you shoot in RAW your white balance can be changed while editing. If you shoot in JPEG, your options are limited so daylight is a good option here.



Fireworks and laser display

Fireworks and laser display

How to photograph fireworks


Now for the fun bit! Once you’re on location and ready to take photos, what happens next is up to you. If you’ve visited the location in advance and you’ve managed to bag your vantage point of choice, well done! If not, don’t worry about it. Here are a few tips to get you started but do feel free to experiment.


1. Compose your shot

How you frame the photo is up to you. There’s no harm in starting wide at the beginning of the display and then zooming in closer so that the fireworks fill the frame.


2. Set the focus

Select manual focus and if your camera has a live-view mode you can use this to help you focus on a specific object in the distance, maybe like a castle. Or you can use auto-focus on your desired object and then switch to manual focus so that the camera isn’t hunting for focus when you want to take the shot.

If there aren’t any objects that you want to focus on between you and the fireworks you can also set your lens to focus on infinity and then adjust if needed. On Canon lenses there is a symbol that looks like a number 8 sideways. This indicates focus beyond infinity. There should be a back to front “L” just before that so you want to use the start of the small side for infinity.

For other lenses that don’t have an infinity mark move the focus ring as far as it goes and then back 1/4 of an inch.

Don’t forget to check the focus after you’ve taken your first shot so you can change it if needed.


3. Set the aperture

For best results select an aperture of between f/9 and f/11.


4. Set the shutter speed

Try a shutter speed of between 1 and 4 seconds.

If you want to take a photo of multiple burst of fireworks what you can do instead is put your camera on to bulb mode so you can take photos longer than 30 seconds.



Fireworks and laser display

Fireworks and laser display

How to photograph fireworks if you have a point and shoot camera


A lot of point and shoot cameras have manual modes, enabling you to take control of ISO, white balance, aperture and shutter speed and you can follow the steps above.

If your compact camera doesn’t have a manual mode, it may have a mode called “shutter priority” which will usually be indicated by the letters Tv.

If you’re using a tripod, set your camera to shutter priority and then select a shutter speed of between 1 and 4 seconds. If you don’t have a tripod for your compact, don’t worry. You may have a variety of scenic modes to choose from and you can select the “fireworks” mode. Just remember to keep your hands steady!



Over to you

Have you tried to photograph fireworks?

Pop into the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!