How I Shoot Fireworks 3 Different Ways

North for the 4th

This time of year my family is usually getting excited and prepared to head to Northern Arizona, where my husband gets to work on a shooting crew setting off fireworks for a small mining town. They throw an all day event and we get together with friends from around the state and have a blast hanging out and catching up.

Due to the coronavirus we won’t get to participate because we have vulnerable people in our immediate family and all normally occurring family activities, except for the fireworks, are canceled. I am super disappointed but that doesn’t mean the day is ruined, it means it’s different, we adapt.

Plan B

We stay home, enjoy the day, and take some pictures of this year’s “different 4th.” I’m pretty excited about this as I have some new goals.

We have a lake near where the fireworks are set off. I am hoping to get some images with reflections on the lake and also some silhouettes of my kids watching the fireworks.

Equipment

  • Camera that can be set to manual mode
  • Lens or lenses of choice, plan this out ahead of time
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release, shutter remote, or use the shutter delay timer
  • Black cardboard to cover your lens
  • Flashlight to see your camera settings in the dark

I have not attempted to try all of these techniques in one year. I usually set one goal and try to achieve that. I split my twenty-five minutes of fireworks show between enjoying the fireworks and photographing them. And of course I’m also watching the ground where my husband is lighting off these huge shells and and praying he and his crew are safe.

General Settings

You will want to be familiar with these settings on your camera and to have much of them set before the show starts. It will be dark and you don’t have a lot of time so the more you get done ahead of time the better. I’m not giving exact settings because I don’t stick to the same settings every year.

Plan your lens and location as best as possible before the session

Manual or Bulb Mode

Low ISO

Aperture set at mid range is usually where I start.

1. Straight up fireworks!

I use a shutter speed around 1-2 seconds usually and adjust as I need to, to get the image I want. Be careful to check your image for exposure. It is easy to blow your highlights. I come back with lots of these every year and I just toss them. No biggie but just remember to check and adjust. Some of that can be fixed with your editing software too.

During the editing process I pull down the highlights and make other adjustments to pull out more of the color, white can overpower the image. You can see that example in my image on the left.

2. Multiple exposure fireworks

This technique will give you multiple fireworks in one image in camera. It involves a long shutter speed and a black piece of cardboard large enough to cover your lens. You can do this in your editing and just layer images but I like the challenge of getting it in camera.

A tripod and a free hand are a must.

Ok, this was kinda difficult because I am a mom of seven and my husband was literally shooting the fireworks while I was also trying to “shoot” the fireworks. I really wanted my kids close to me so I could experience it with them so I was constantly juggling jobs.

I had my shutter open for around 30 seconds. A shutter release cable or a remote is best for this job but you can also set the shutter speed on the camera but you will be stuck with that time and lose some control over your image. I like to decide when I am done.

I open the shutter when I anticipate a burst and then put the black cardboard in front of my lens between fireworks.

Then just close the shutter with your remote or cable when you are satisfied and you are good. My longest time was 44 seconds.

And now for my personal favorite!

3. Focus pulling

This is my newest learned trick and it’s SO fun. I think this one is easiest too because your focus doesn’t have to be exact. Focusing in the dark is difficult.

I set my focus on the fireworks and as the firework is firing I turn my focus ring while I am taking the picture. These were a shutter speeds of 1-2 seconds. I love the dramatic results and it’s fairly simple to accomplish.

Enjoy your 4th this year. It is different for all of us and we can make the best of it. Wear your mask

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