With Fourth of July right around the corner, a lot of us will find ourselves taking pictures of fireworks. Why not shoot like a pro and have all your friends, family and neighbors wonder how you did it? Well, there is a trick—one of those “tricks of the trade” that works like a charm every time.

But before we get to that, there’s something you should try first. Look on your camera and see if there is a shooting mode or scene mode called “fireworks.” Believe it or not, there are cameras that have this setting, so check your owner’s manual or find a copy of it online. Your awesome shots might be just one switch away.

If your camera doesn’t have a fireworks scene setting, then let’s go to “Plan B,” which is setting up your camera you have to take awesome shots of fireworks.

Here’s the simple, tried and true method to make beautiful fireworks shots:

How to Photograph Fireworks
Scott Kelby

The actual trick is simply making your camera’s shutter stay open a long time (literally 3-4 seconds), which captures the falling light trails from the burst.

What you’ll need:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Fireworks show
  • Wireless or cable shutter release (optional)

Step One:

You won’t be able to stand there holding your camera aiming up at the sky and prevent your camera from moving while your shutter stays open, so you’ll need to setup your camera on a tripod. If you try the “handheld method,” your shots will sadly not be awesome, but blurry.

In addition to keeping your shutter open, you’ll have more success if you fire your shutter using either a wireless remote or a cable release, which is a cable that attaches to your camera and allows you to take a shot without touching the shutter button. This really pays off because you’ll need to see the firework rocket’s trajectory to know when and where it’s going and to know when to push the shutter button. If you’re instead looking in the viewfinder, you might miss the shot.

Step Two:

Zoom in as tight as you can. Ideally a lens 200mm will be more likely to get in tight and capture just the fireworks. If you want fireworks and the background such as a building or cityscape, then use a wider lens.

Step Three:

Switch your camera to manual mode (set the dial to “M”) and set two settings:

  • Set the shutter speed to 4 seconds
  • Set the aperture (your f/stop) to f/11.
Then just wait for the fireworks to start. I suggest taking a test shot and looking at the LCD monitor on the back of your camera to see if you like the results. If it overexposes (it’s too bright), lower the shutter speed to 3 seconds, then take another shot and check the results again.

TIP: If your camera has “bulb” mode (where the shutter stays open as long as you hold down the shutter release button down), this works great too. Just hold the shutter button down when the rocket bursts and then release it once the light trails start to fade. You might want to check the owner’s manual or online to see if your camera has this setting. Also, remember what I said about keeping the camera still while the shutter is open.

To recap, you’ve got a three-step trick:

(1)    Put your camera on a tripod

(2)    Zoom in tight on the fireworks, and

(3)    Switch to manual mode, setting your shutter speed to 4 seconds, your f/stop to f11

Now you’re ready to create some amazing fireworks shots!

Have fun and stay safe.

How to Photograph Fireworks
Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby is the editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine and President of KelbyOne.com. He is the co-host of the highly acclaimed weekly videocast The Grid, and teaches photography, Lightroom and Photoshop workshops around the world.

Scott is an award-winning author of more than 50 books, including The Digital Photography Books, The Adobe Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers, and Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It: Learn Step by Step How to Go from Empty Studio to Finished Image. For more on Scott, see his blog www.scottkelby.com.

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