Photographing Fireworks

Fireworks Quick Tips

(here are tips from various photographers, in their own words):

* Use a tripod.
* Use a cable release or wireless remote to trigger the shutter if you have one.
* Turn on Long Exposure Noise Reduction.
* Shoot the highest quality file you can. RAW is ideal.
* Set the camera to a low ISO, such as 200.
* A good starting point for aperture is f/11.
* Instead of choosing a shutter speed, set the camera to Bulb (B) which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want. Expose for the entire fireworks burst. You can even keep the shutter open for multiple bursts.
* Turn off the autofocus, otherwise it might have difficulty locking onto focus. Manually focus your lens at infinity.

Card Trick

Here’s my technique for maximum camera steadiness. I set my Nikon D-SLR on its bulb setting and hold a black piece of cardboard, about four inches square, in front of the lens. I open the shutter using the cable release, wait about five seconds and then move the card away from the front of the lens. The card never touches the lens, it just blocks it. What I’m doing is giving the camera time to settle down after the shutter is released. When the card is taken away, the exposure starts, and when I decide the exposure is done, I move the card back in front of the lens, hold it there and close the shutter with the release.


First I use a feature called long exposure noise reduction. It’s helpful because as you do long exposures, the camera’s sensor tends to build up heat that translates as noise in an image. Long exposure NR goes a long way toward canceling the noise. Then I shoot at the highest quality I can: the RAW file. Turn off the autofocus, otherwise it might have difficulty locking onto focus. Manually focus your lens at infinity. When the fireworks start I tend to mark my exposures not so much by time but by the number of air bursts. I’ll expose for three, four or five bursts; sometimes I’ll keep the shutter open for up to ten. Fireworks shows last a pretty long time, so you’ll be able to check the back of the camera to see how your best guesses for exposure are turning out. I have a starting point you might want to try: ISO 200 at f/11. I review the first shot—looking for detail, color and sharpness—and adjust from there. If I’m underexposed a bit, I’ll open the aperture; if overexposed, I’ll close down.
Because I’m on Bulb, I can expose for the entire length of a fireworks burst. I’ll simply cover the lens until I’m ready and then uncover it for a full fireworks burst. I can also cover and uncover the lens multiple times to capture multiple fireworks bursts for one exposure.