Tips & Tutorials

How To Photograph Fireworks – 5 Best Tips


Have you ever looked at those awesome fireworks pictures and thought, damn, if only I could do that? I think we were all there once, and what made it worse is in my case is that even after buying more professional gear, I still had no clue on how to get the same look to my images.

Fireworks are a little bit trickier than your everyday situations. Here’s why:

  • You are shooting at night, with little to no light available
  • These kind of events only happen a few times a year, meaning you don’t really know what you are doing until you actually try it for the first time

In this article, I’ll explain what kind of settings you need to use, and everything else that will make fireworks photography as easy as possible.

Some of the tips mentioned may only be appropriate to DSLR cameras, but you can also apply them to cameras that allow you to have at least some sort of control (at least the shutter speed).

1. Bring A Tripod

I really wish there was a free alternative, but in order to get those crisp, blur-free shots, your camera must be perfectly still. Fireworks photography requires long shutter speeds, and any movement will make the shot look unappealing.

This is easier said than done, I know. You’ll most likely be in a crowded place and the last thing you want to do is annoy people with your tripod taking up way too much space.

If you don’t already own a tripod and want to pay as little as possible, look at two of my favorite options ($25 and $50)

First, the tripod must be able to support all of your gear. Most cheaper tripods go up to 5 pounds (2kg), which is enough for a semi-professional DSLR with a heavier lens. Second, the tripod needs to have a 3 way pan head so you can move it around freely. Other helpful, but not necessary features, are a bubble level and a tripod that ends somewhere around your height.

2. Find A Good Spot

If possible, get to the location a couple of hours before it starts (obviously bring your camera). Plan ahead and assume where most of the fireworks are going to be, and what sorts of objects around you could spice up your photographs.

  • Water
  • Buildings
  • Nature

All of these can make your shot really interesting, but if you won’t be careful they could actually do more bad than good! I’ve had plenty of images ruined because of trees I never noticed before, and city lamps can often make everything look overexposed.

fireworks-city-shot18mm – 4 seconds – f/11 – ISO 100

The black sky alone will work if the fireworks are interesting enough, but chances are you will end up with thousands of images that look identical to each other.

Make sure you can move around, and re-adjust your framing. Most of the time you won’t even be looking through the viewfinder, but clicking on the shutter button once the sky is filled with colors. Spend a couple of minutes on getting a good composition, then focus more on making the shots look good.

3. What Settings To Use

Without a doubt, choosing the right settings is crucial for capturing beautiful fireworks images. This is also where things get a little bit complicated if you’ve never heard a lot of the terms before, so spend some time on reading camera basics. This tutorial is also aimed at beginners though, so you should be all good!

Camera Mode

Got a DSLR camera? Definitely don’t waste such an amazing tool by using it in any of the pre-set, automatic modes. It may work during the day, but most cameras simply fail when lighting gets tricky. Here are the modes you should use, from most recommended to least;

1) Manual mode | 2) Tv/S – Time Value | 3) Av/A – Aperture Value

Use the manual mode if you feel comfortable enough controlling more than 1 setting. If it’s currently too much for you then stick to the Shutter Speed mode (Tv on Nikon, S on Canon), where you change the shutter speed and your camera takes care of the rest. For P&S owners, I recommend you to switch to any of the modes above as well and try how much you can change. Feel free to use the Fireworks mode, but as your last option!

Shutter Speed

To get that professional fireworks look (long trails), you need to select a long shutter speed. Anything over a second will be fine, but the sweet spot is probably around 5 to 20 seconds. Take use of the Bulb mode, where the shutter length depends on how long you hold down the shutter button. Another really cool trick is to choose a 30 second exposure, and cover the lens with a black card when there are no fireworks.

Aperture & ISO

To get the maximum sharpness out of your lens, close down the aperture to f/5.6 – f/16. Don’t worry about underexposure, fireworks are way brighter than you think! For the same reason, stick to the lowest ISO speed (usually 100) to get the best quality.


Turn on the MF and focus to infinity, as most fireworks won’t be in the usual range. Choose Auto White Balance and JPEG format for high quality files and faster camera writing (RAW files are much bigger, but in return you can do more in post processing).

Don’t forget, these are just the most recommended settings that would give the best results in most cases. You can always try some new tricks, or change settings to different values than what I wrote; that’s the fun part about photography, you can do whatever you want to.

fireworks-london17mm – 10 seconds – f/13 – ISO 100

4. Cable Release/Remote Control

I have already said that camera shake is the one thing you don’t want on any of your shots. See, even if you have a tripod, there’s still some shake after you press on the shutter button. You can shoot with a self-timer and choose from 2 to 10 seconds, but you might actually miss a lot of beautiful opportunities. It would be wise to buy a cheap cable release that you attach to the camera, and use it to take pictures with no delay!

Both shutter releases will work perfectly with any Canon or Nikon DSLR model. You’re not limited to fireworks though, you can use it for anytime you’re using a tripod and want the best results.

5. Best Focal Length

The great thing about fireworks is that pretty much any focal length will do just fine! To get as much as possible into one picture, try shooting around 20mm and only zoom in if you want to make the shoot feel a bit tighter, or focus on a specific object.

The kit 18-55mm with most DSLR cameras will be perfect, and point and shoot cameras are also in the similar range.

Don’t expect to have professional like shots in the early beginning, so take as many pictures as you can (and even more than that) because some will be out of focus, or just not interesting enough. I have provided the EXIF information under every image in this tutorial so you can already get the basic feeling of how it’s going to be.

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