Top Tips for Photographing Fireworks

Fireworks Photography
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved
As the Fourth of July is approaching, we thought it would be a good time to share a few tips and tricks for photographing fireworks.

Use this brief set of ideas to ensure that you getting the most stunning images of this patriotic celebration.

You will notice that all of these images were shot in the vertical, portrait orientation. They are also fairly tight and close up (these were all shot with a telephoto lens). But you can use either orientation and any lens - it all depends on the kind of images you are after.

Tip #1: Use a Tripod

Photographing Fireworks
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved
First and foremost, you are going to need a tripod. There is no way around it. As your best shots will likely require several seconds of exposure, your camera will need to be securely mounted and perfectly still while you take each picture.

You will also want a way to take each picture without touching the camera. Older cameras often use remote cables and many newer cameras use electric remote controls. Whatever works is fine... as long as it allows the camera to shoot without your finger shaking it.

Tip #2: Use the Right Film

Taking Pictures of Fireworks
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved
Contrary to popular belief, a slower speed film is better for shooting fireworks. Faster films will produce images with less color and less clarity - exactly the opposite of what we want when taking pictures

So get yourself some ISO 50, 64, or 100 speed film - and be sure to buy several rolls. The last thing you want to do is run out of film before the grand finale.

Using such slow speed films goes hand-in-hand with using a tripod. After all, using a slow speed film without a tripod spells doom in the photographic world.

Tip #3: Choose Your Vantage Point

Shooting Fireworks
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved
As when shooting sunsets and other panoramic views, it's often a good idea to include interesting, recognizable objects in your photo. A well-lit building or monument under a cascading burst of fireworks can send your picture far above the competition.

When I shoot fireworks, I rarely go to the main center of attraction - you know, the place where they charge you admission and perhaps even sell concessions.

Instead I scout out the area ahead of time and select a more distant vantage point, one that gives me a good view of the festivities.

Tip #4: Timing and Shutter Speed

Tips on Photographing Fireworks
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved
Before you get going, set your aperture to f/8 or a similar aperture. Wait until you see a missile projecting up into the air (or otherwise get the feeling that a burst is about to go off).

Then open up your shutter (using the "bulb" mode). Leave it open for 4 to 20 seconds, varying exposures - I usually keep the shutter open until the particular blast I am photographing goes dark.

If there is a lit object that you care about in the scene, take your meter reading from that. If not, experiment and have fun!

Final Thoughts: Using Digital Cameras vs. Film Cameras
Is it different if you are shooting with a digital camera? Not necessarily.

The real question is whether you are using an automatic point and shoot or a more controllable digital camera. If your camera allows you to open up the shutter for long amounts of time using a "bulb" mode (often represented by a "B" symbol), it should be fine for fireworks photography.

Fireworks Photos Fireworks Fireworks Photography
© Jim Miotke, 2002
All Rights Reserved

For More Info
Find out more about upcoming fireworks celebrations by checking your local/regional events.

Or learn how to make better photos with one of's online photo courses.