Scope out the location early - Planning is important with fireworks and getting to the location early in order to get a good, unobstructed position is important. Think about what is in the foreground and background of your shots and make sure you wonít have peopleís heads bobbing up into your shots (also consider what impact youíll have on others around you also). Take note of where fireworks are being set up and what parts of the sky they are likely to be shot into - you might also want to try to ask some of those setting up the display for a little information on what they are planning. Also consider what focal lengths you might want to use and choose appropriate lenses at this time (rather than in the middle of the show).
Watch your Horizons - One thing that you should always consider when lining up fireworks shots is whether your camera is even or straight in itís framing. This is especially important if youíre going to shooting with a wide focal length and will get other background elements in your shots (ie a cityscape). Keeping horizons straight is important in fireworks shots. As you get your camera on your tripod make sure itís level right from the time you set up.
Vertical or Horizontal? - There are two main ways of framing shots in all types of photography, vertically (portrait) or horizontally (landscape). Both can work in fireworks photography but I personally find a vertical perspective is better - particularly as there is a lot of vertical motion in fireworks. Horizontal shots can work if youíre going for more of a landscape shot with a wider focal length of if youíre wanting to capture multiple bursts of fireworks in the one shot - but I donít tend to go there that often.
Remember your framing - I find that when I photograph fireworks that I spend less time looking in my viewfinder and more looking at the sky directly. As a result itís important to remember what framing you have and to watch that segment of the sky. Doing this will also help you to anticipate the right time for a shot as youíll see the light trails of unexploded
shooting into the sky.
One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if youíre shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. I generally shoot at a wider focal length than a tight one but during a show will try a few tighter shots (I usually use a zoom lens to give me this option) to see if I can get lucky with them. Of course zoomed in shots like the one to the left can be quite effective also. They enable you to really fill the frame with great color. Keep in mind however that cropping of your wider angle fireworks shots can always be done later to get a similar impact in your photography.
A common question around photographing fireworks displays is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to get them but in reality itís quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit is quite bright. I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well and would usually shoot somewhere between f/8 to f/16.
Probably more important to get right than aperture is shutter speed. Fireworks move and as a result the best photographs of them capture this movement meaning you need a nice long exposure. The technique that I developed when I first photographed fireworks was to shoot in Ďbulbí mode. This is a mode that allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter (preferably using a remote shutter release of some type). Using this technique you hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode
and hold it down until itís finished exploding (generally a few seconds).
You can also experiment with set shutter speeds to see what impact it will have but I find that unless youíre holding the shutter open for very long exposures that the bulb technique works pretty well.
Donít keep your shutter open too long. The temptation is to think that because itís dark that you can leave it open as long as you like. The problem with this is that fireworks are bright and it doesnít take too much to over expose them, especially if your shutter is open for multiple bursts in the one area of the sky. By all means experiment with multiple burst shots - but most people end up finding that the simpler one burst shots can be best.
Shoot in Manual Mode
I find I get the best results when shooting in manual exposure and manual focus modes. Auto focusing in low light can be very difficult for many cameras and youíll end up missing a lot of shots. Once your focusing is set youíll find you donít really need to change it during the fireworks display - especially if youíre using a small aperture which increases depth of field. Keep in mind that changing focal lengths will mean you need to need to adjust your focusing on most lenses.
Switch off your Flash
Shooting with a flash will have no impact upon your shots except to trick your camera into thinking it needs a short exposure time. Keep in mind that your cameraís flash will only have a reach of a few meters and in the case of fireworks even if they were this close a flash wouldnít really have anything to light except for some smoke which would distract from the real action (the flashing lights).Switch your flash off.
Shooting at a low ISO is preferable to ensure the cleanest shots possible. Stick to ISO 100 and you should be fine.
Experiment and Track Results
Throughout the fireworks display periodically check your results. I generally will take a few shots at the start and do a quick check to see that they are OK before shooting any more. Donít check after every shot once youíve got things set up OK (or youíll miss the action) but do monitor yours shots occasionally to ensure youíre not taking a completely bad batch.
Also experiment with taking shots that include a wider perspective, silhouettes and people around you watching the display. Having your camera pointed at the sky can get you some wonderful shots but sometimes if you look for different perspectives you can get a few shots that are a little less cliche and just as spectacular