Take Better Firework Pictures

Here are some technical tips on taking better fireworks photos on DLSRs or smartphones!

Everyone starts out a beginner...even the pros. Take a read as Chip Ormsby walks us through his own beginnings and the tips that got him to the amazing fireworks photos he takes now! All of the images below are courtesy Chip via Chipped Photography.

My first experience shooting fireworks with a DSLR (a Canon t2i) was certainly calculated, but a I didn’t worry too much about the background or foreground. I just got very lucky that there wasn’t anything obtrusive.

Chip Ormsby

I was a little less lucky with the image below. I didn’t realize how wide of a spread the fireworks were going to be at all and being fairly close, my 18mm lens was definitely not enough to contain all of the display. There were also a lot of unintentional distracting elements in the foreground which moved the eye away from the subject: the fireworks!

Chip Ormsby

The great thing about these early attempts is that it later let me learn from these mistakes. After reviewing my 2011 images I realized how distracting the foreground was which lead me to think a bit harder about how and where I was shooting, and the equipment I was using.

Something I learned is that one should always be mindful of their settings! If using a DSLR, jumping to an aperture of f/16 and above is not unheard of, especially if you want a longer exposure. If you were to see the metadata on my shots, I was actually above f/11 a lot of the time and hovered around an 8-10 second exposure, depending on how many fireworks are going off. The more fireworks there are, the faster the shutter speed needs to be as otherwise they’ll eventually overexpose the image.

My recommended settings:

  • Shutter – 4 and 30 seconds
  • ISO – 100-200
  • Aperture – 3.5-11

Chip Ormsby

The best tip I can give is to figure out where the fireworks will be launched from (and where they’ll end up in the sky), try to get your background as clutter free as possible, and potentially position oneself for a pleasing foreground. In Bay City, Mi. one of the more popular places to photograph from is on one of the bridges nearby. It gets you a great view of the show and between the river, boats, and reflections on the water, the foreground is tops. If you’re on a bridge though, it’s best to position oneself over a main support structure. Otherwise passing cars will cause potentially unpleasing vibrations in the final image. Regardless of whether or not you’re using a phone or a DSLR, you’re going to want manual control and a tripod. Steadiness is a must with photography like this!

Chip Ormsby

I primarily use a DSLR, but decent results can be had as long as you’ve got manual controls on your smartphone camera such as those found on most Nokia Lumia Devices or within some downloadable camera apps. While you can’t manipulate the aperture on most smartphones, you can usually adjust the ISO and shutter speed. Keeping the ISO as low as possible is a must since most smartphones have a pretty fast base aperture of 2.2-2.8.

As far as lenses go, smartphones tend to be a bit wide at ~22mm. This is nice for selfies and such but can make fireworks look diminutive, so it’s best to get closer than further. If you you’re finding yourself getting too much light in your shots, try shooting with a faster shutter or perhaps getting an ND filter to stop down the amount of light entering the camera.

I could go on and on so I’ll end it here!

Thanks for those great tips (and pics!), Chip. You can find more about Chip and his photography at Chipped Photography.

Do you have any tips for taking fireworks photos?