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Sample Photo Cheat Sheet -- Photographing Fireworks

Here's B&W photos of our "Photographing Fireworks" Cheat Sheet.
2001-2004 Robert J. McCabe, All rights reserved.
Phographing Fireworks


Pick a location that allows you to shoot fireworks in context with the environment.

* Position yourself UPWIND or CROSSWIND from the fireworks so the smoke doesn't obscure later bursts.

* Have something identifiable in the photo (monuments, statues, people, flags, bridges, landscapes, etc.)

* Water in the foreground to reflect the light is helpful.

* Look for a unique shooting location like the top of a building that provides a different perspective.

Equipment & Exposure

* EQUIPMENT - camera with manual controls, tripod and cable release. A black card, cloth, hat, etc. is helpful.

* Use a wide-to-tele zoom for flexibility in composition. Apertures around f/8 work best overall.

* Fast film/ISO settings are NOT needed - fireworks are bright! Use an ISO 100 setting/film speed.

* Set your camera for a time exposure, "B" (bulb) or "T" (time) setting. Use a cable release to begin and end the exposure to prevent camera shake. If you don't have a cable release, use the self timer on the camera.

* Cover the lens between bursts (w/ a black card, hat, etc.) and uncover the lens to record the bursts you want to capture. Vary total exposure time from 1-30 seconds.

* Select bursts you like based on color, size, location, etc.


Phographing Fireworks


For a well-lit foreground subject (statue, flag, etc.) with fireworks in the background, use your flash during the exposure. Vary the flash intensity if you can. If you use a wide angle lens, you can focus on the foreground subject.

Double Exposures

* With the CAMERA ON A TRIPOD - take an underexposed shot of a scene after sunset with some color in the sky and foreground subjects in silhouette. When the display begins, take a 2nd exposure on the SAME FRAME of the SAME SCENE with 1-3 bursts of fireworks overhead.

This only works for ONE FRAME with a film camera. With a digital camera (or film scanner) you can take several images of a scene before the fireworks start & more images with fireworks overhead and merge images on a computer.

* Take a slightly underexposed shot of a statue, flag, etc. and a 2nd exposure (on same frame) of JUST fireworks.

With a film camera, you can repeat this sequence for a whole roll, but you must alternate between shooting foreground objects and fireworks. With a digital camera (or scanner) you can shoot the foreground or fireworks AT ANY TIME, and merge the best images later on the computer.

Hand-Held Shots

* Use an ultrawide-angle lens & ISO 400-800 setting/film.

* Use exposure times of 1 second or more to intentionally blur the fireworks. Try zooming, shaking, or jiggling the camera for interesting effects.