How To Photograph Fireworks

How To Photograph Fireworks

One of the most common questions we get in our photography classes is, “how do I photograph fireworks?” Like most photography techniques, it takes practice, but here are some settings that will take a lot of the guesswork out.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Camera that has manual settings (you’ll need to be able to set the mode dial to “M” for Manual).
  2. A relatively wide lens, something that has something in the 24mm range is good.  A common lens is 18-55mm which will work fine in most cases.
  3. Tripod – this is a MUST! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but has to be able to hold your camera VERY still.
  4. Cable release (optional): it attaches to a special port on your camera and usually has a cord about 3 feet long and a button on the end.  It allows you to take a picture without pushing the button on the camera itself, therefore eliminating any vibration that could be caused by putting your finger on the camera body.

firework photographs

camera settings for photographing fireworks

Set the mode dial on your camera to “M” for Manual.

 Settings for photographing fireworks:

  1. Put the camera on a tripod.
  2. Set the camera to “M” for Manual.
  3. Set the ISO sensitivity to 100.  If your camera won’t go to 100, then 200 will be fine.
  4. Set the Aperture (f/stop) to f/11 (the aperture is inside the lens, but you’ll use a dial or button on the camera to adjust this) Sometimes you have to use two controls simultaneously. On some Canon DSLR cameras you’ll push the  [+/-] button while turning the wheel or dial on the back until you get to f/11.  You may need to adjust this slightly to make the picture brighter or darker, but this is a good starting point…don’t deviate too much!
  5. Set the shutter to 10 seconds.  Be sure it’s not 1/10th of a second.  You’ll hear the shutter open, the viewfinder will go blank, then 10 seconds later you’ll hear it close.  The reason for this is to get the trails and streaks of the fireworks as they explode and fall.  You’ll also be able to capture multiple bursts in one exposure.  Experiment with the shutter some as you may find that you need longer than 10 seconds in some cases.  Probably somewhere between 8 and 15 seconds you’ll find the sweet spot.
  6. IMPORTANT: set the focus on your lens to MANUAL FOCUS.  There’s probably a switch on the side of the lens that goes between “AF” (auto focus) and “M” (manual focus).  Turn the focus ring on the lens until it’s set to infinity.  There is often a marking on the lens that looks like a figure “8” which is the infinity symbol.  If you DON’T have this, look through the viewfinder and turn the ring until the object farthest away from you appear in focus.  If things close to you appear in focus and the background starts to blur, turn the focus ring the opposite direction.
  7. Take LOTS of pictures! Fireworks are often unpredictable, and each exposure will be unique.  Keep shooting and get a variety of colors and burst patterns.  After you’ve copied your pictures to your computer, many picture editing programs will show you what your settings were.  Notice the different aperture and shutter speed settings and make notes about which ones worked best for you.

Have fun taking pictures and happy 4th of July!

focus settings for shooting fireworks

Set the lens to manual focus, then turn the focus ring to infinity – the figure-8 symbol.


ISO 100 at f/11 for 10 seconds


ISO 50 at f/11 for 5 seconds


ISO 100 at f/11 for 6 seconds

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1 Comment

  1. Great info. Thanks for taking the time to post this! Will share with family and friends.


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