Here are some helpful recommendations, things to keep in mind
before you venture out to shoot fireworks. Please remember that
these are my own opinions. Every shooting situation is different
and contains its own set of variables. The key is to relax, don't
get too hung up on exact exposures, and shoot like crazy!
You're definitely going to need a tripod. Since your exposures
will run anywhere from 2 to 30 seconds, you'll need the tripod
for stability and to ensure smooth, sharp photographs of the
shell trails and the fireworks bursts. A monopod simply won't cut
For ease of shooting, you'll also need a cable release so you can
sit back, click the shutter, and still enjoy the show. In
addition, if your camera doesn't advance the film automatically,
you'll also want to use an auto winder or a motor drive.
What lens to use?
The type of lens you select depends on where you are in relation
to the fireworks and the effect you wish to achieve. If you're
relatively close and what you're looking for are frame-filling
photos of the bursts themselves, then a short telephoto in the
100mm to 200mm range will probably work well. If you want overall
views of the scene, then a 50mm to 80mm lens should do the job.
And if you want to include people silhouetted in the foreground,
then you'll want an even wider lens, such as a 24mm to 35mm.
Tip for the terminally stupid . . .
This may sound very basic, but make sure you check your lens. A
number of times I've grabbed a lens out of my camera bag while
shooting fireworks and discovered I'd left the polarizing filter
on it from shooting earlier in the day. I know -- stupid, stupid,
stupid! But it happens . . .
Naturally you can shoot fireworks with any type of film --
negative, transparency, even black and white -- but I would
recommend color transparency film, and the film I use is
Fujichrome 50 or 100. Every photographer has his or her favorite,
and this is mine. So use whatever film you're comfortable and
familiar with. Some photographers recommend using tungsten film
for photographing fireworks, while other photographers use
daylight film. The tungstenites say that daylight balanced film
gives the fireworks too reddish a cast. The daylighters say they
like that. If you have the luxury of two camera bodies, two
tripods, why not set them both up and use tungsten film in one,
daylight film in the other? Then you be the judge when you see
Any speed film ranging from ISO 50 to ISO 200 will work well for
Set your shutter speed to BULB.
Set your f/stop to the following:
ISO 50 film . . . . . f/5.6 or f/8
ISO 64 film . . . . . f/5.6 or f/8
ISO 100 film . . . . . f/8 or f/11
ISO 200 film . . . . . f/16
How long do you hold the shutter open?
This varies, again depending on the effect you want. You may want
to capture a single burst or you may wish to capture multiple
bursts. Again, since this is an inexact science, don't worry too
much about it. To capture a single burst, wait until you hear the
sound of the mortar shell being launched. Open your shutter. Wait
for the burst to explode. Keep waiting until the burst has
completely finished and all the twinkling is done. Then close the
shutter. That's it! If you wish to capture several bursts, wait
for the sound of the shell being launched, open your shutter,
wait for the burst to disappear, then cover your lens (tips on
that later) and wait for the sound of the next shell being
launched. Uncover your lens, wait until it's over, then cover
your lens again. You be the judge of how many bursts you want in
one frame. Just remember that you don't want too many -- it
starts looking way too busy.
Miscellaneous tips for photographing
Smoke gets in your eyes . . .
Try to be upwind of the fireworks show. As the show progresses
and the smoke builds up, you'll find that it obscures the
fireworks. Michael-Leonard Creditor suggests: "Rather than
being upwind, I find it's better to be at a right angle to the
direction of the wind. This way, smoke will be blown out of the
frame most quickly. If you're directly upwind, smoke can still
remain behind your colorful subjects."
Landmarks for a sense of perspective
If the area is a scenic one, try to include landmarks to give a
sense of place. I.e., if you're photographing fireworks in Long
Beach over by the harbor, including the "Queen Mary" in
some of your shots will definitely show your viewers where the
fireworks show was taking place. You'll also get a sense of
perspective by including a landmark, even if it's the silhouette
of a person in front of you, a tree, a boat, etc. Photographing
fireworks as they're fired out over a lake or a harbor gives you
an additional boost to your photography since you can also
capture the reflection of the fireworks in the water.
Watch your backgrounds
At twilight, while you're waiting for the fireworks to begin,
take a good look at any lights that may be behind the fireworks.
Sometimes you won't notice an errant street lamp until you see
that enormous glowing white blob in your resulting shots. Then
you think, "how could I have missed that?" By scoping
out the background first, you may have time to shift your
position or switch lenses to avoid having the offending light
appearing in each one of your pictures.
Focus on the bursts
Don't rely on setting your lens to infinity to shoot the
fireworks. When the first burst goes up, focus on that burst and
use that focus throughout.
Shoot verticals and horizontals
So many photographers automatically hold the camera horizontally
when they shoot, not remembering that they can hold the camera
vertically as well. Don't limit yourself! Take some shots
vertically and others horizontally (I'm referring to the camera,
but I guess you could lie down or stand up!).
Cover your lens but don't jiggle the camera
If you're photographing multiple bursts, there are numerous ways
you can cover your lens between bursts without moving the camera.
Some photographers take a black baseball cap to put on the lens,
others will bring a piece of non-reflective black velvet or black
felt cloth to hang over the lens. Some photographers simply use
their hand, while another photographer painted the inside of a
round oatmeal carton black and stuck that on the front of the
lens (a bit bulky to pack, though).
Michael-Leonard Creditor recommends "try some pieces of
colored cellophane or other type of colored filters to lend even
more color to the bursts. And don't forget that great old
technique of ZOOOOMING during the exposure for a totally
different look to the burst patterns."
Double-expose a full moon into your shots?
You may wish to go out and, using a long lens, take some shots of
the moon, reload the film into your camera, and then on the 4th
go out and photograph the fireworks, superimposing them next to
your moon shots. If you kept accurate notes while shooting the
moon, you'll know, frame by frame, where the moon is in each shot
as you compose for the fireworks. Or, oh what the heck, just
digitally place the moon wherever you wish afterwards!
All images and original content Copyright © 2003 - 2020Joe Kennedy