It’s almost time to observe America’s Independence Day, a celebration complete with picnics, parades, and plenty of fireworks! The flashes of colorful patterns you can expect to witness in a firework display can make for remarkable photographs, when your camera is set up and you have a plan. Follow these steps to creating Instagram-worthy photos of fireworks this 4th of July that will have people ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ long after the smoke has cleared.
1. Arrive early.
Firework displays tend to bring out the crowds, so you definitely want to get there early to get set. Can you imagine trying to squeeze through a sea of people and then setting up your tripod in the middle? If you get there early you can scope out your best spot and avoid being in anyone’s way.
2. Lens selection.
Make sure you have a lens that’s wide enough to show plenty of context. Fireworks over a city or other lit-up structures look amazing! A zoom lens gives you a lot of latitude to adjust your composition on the fly. Don’t be afraid to zoom in from time to time and don’t forget take a few photos of the people watching. A 24-105mm and a 70-200mm will have you well covered and ready for just about anything.
3. Use a tripod.
You need to slow down the shutter speed when photographing fireworks to fully capture the vibrant colors and that means using a tripod. Also, we suggest you wrap some reflective tape around the tripod legs so that passers by don’t accidentally bump it, turning the beautiful colorful patterns into blurry chaos.
4. Use a remote shutter release.
A remote shutter release is extremely useful tool when capturing fireworks. This combined with a tripod will eliminate any worries you might have about camera shake while trying to capture the colorful explosions. Sony shooters can use the Imaging Edge Mobile app to control their cameras remotely (see more about Imaging Edge here).
5. Turn off Long Exposure Noise Reduction.
Long Exposure Noise Reduction adds to your processing time, which can be problematic when photographing fireworks. Since you really need to be ready to shoot at any second, it’s best not turn off Long Exposure Noise Reduction so you don’t miss the perfect shot because your camera is still processing your last one.
6. General camera settings.
As good as the auto exposure modes are, when you’re shooting fireworks, it’s best to fully manual. Use a few of the early fireworks in the performance to get the exposure dialed in, then you’ll be ready for the big crowd-pleasers. Try starting with your ISO at 100 and your aperture around f/11 and a shutter speed around one or two seconds. For longer streaks, increase the shutter speed and reduce the aperture. You can also try shooting in Bulb mode, opening the shutter at the beginning of the explosion and closing it as the embers die.
This will give you a good starting point, but be ready to change it up. Great fireworks photography is the result of experimentation and lots of trial and error. Also, shoot in RAW to give you the most flexibility in post-processing.
7. Lock your focus.
Use a few early fireworks to get your exposure dialed in. You can use AF, but be sure to set AF to the back button so the camera doesn’t hunt for focus when you hit the shutter button. Because you’ll be shooting at a considerable distance and because you’ll have a lot of depth of field from a smaller aperture, you should be able to mostly set it and forget it unless you zoom in or out or change lenses. It’s a good idea to confirm focus periodically during the display.
8. Get creative.
The fact of the matter is, we’ve all probably seen some stunning firework photos. How will you make yours stand out on Instagram? Get creative with your approach and see if you can come up with a composition that isn’t as common. Include people, show context and try something completely different. It might not work or it might be the viral sensation that breaks the Internet.