Are you hoping to capture some fireworks this year? These tips will show you exactly how to use manual mode on your DSLR camera to choose the right exposure settings. You can do it!
Here are 7 tips for shooting fireworks.
DSLR EXPOSURE SETTINGS FOR FIREWORKS
1. Use a tripod.
You absolutely cannot hand-hold shots of fireworks! You’ll be using long exposures, and any tiny movement will make the whole image blurry. So use a tripod.
Tripods are one of the things where you get what you pay for. Cheap tripods (under $40) often break and can compromise the safety of your expensive camera with unstable construction and flimsy materials. Not worth it!
I recommend getting a tripod that will last for years. My absolute favorite tripod is this one: it’s super sturdy, has several leg angles, can reach extra high, and it’s properly weighted to handle any angle with a heavy camera attached. It has never let me down! If you’re on a stricter budget, this one is good too.
If circumstances allow, you might be able to brace yourself against a rail or ledge to hold your camera still for a long exposure. This limits your composition options, but I have done it in a pinch.
2. Use a narrow aperture / higher f-stop.
You’re going to be shooting in manual mode for fireworks, so put your camera in M for Manual mode. If you need more help with walking through manual mode at night, check this post. It’s not fireworks specific, but it’s helped a lot of people understand.
Start by setting your Aperture to a high f-stop like f/11 or f/16 or higher. This gives you plenty of depth of field, and is your best chance of keeping everything in focus and crisp.
3. Use a low ISO.
Next, set your ISO. Usually, you would use a high ISO to make night pictures brighter, however, the nature of fireworks is opposite: we want a dark background, with bright explosions. In this case, we don’t want to make the whole image brighter!
So for fireworks, set a low setting such as 100 or 200 ISO. This will give you the least amount of noise/grain in your image, so it can be the highest quality image.
4. Most importantly: Use a slow shutter speed.
You want to use a SLOW shutter speed for fireworks. It’d hard to tell exactly what setting will work the best, but the slow shutter speed lets you see the full effect and size of the firework. This is the setting you’ll adjust during the fireworks show to get the look you want.
You actually have two options for how you attain this slow shutter speed.
The first option is to set a long, slow shutter speed. I usually start at one second, which shows up as 1′ on your camera viewfinder. Check the back of your camera after a few shots and adjust your shutter speed to be longer if needed. Most fireworks are best shot between 1-5 seconds.
The second option is to use Bulb shutter mode. This is usually denoted by a B after you get to the longest shutter speed on your DSLR.
In Bulb mode you trigger the camera shutter to open and it stays open until you release the button to close it. This is most easily done with a remote or wired shutter release (see my recommendations for Nikon remotes and Canon versions) because it’s hard to keep the camera perfectly still while your finger is pushing it down.
If you’re using bulb mode, you trigger the shutter button when you see the firework go off, and then let it go at the end of the burst. You can also capture several bursts in the same shot if you want, and just carefully cover your lens with a dark card or shirt in between explosions.
5. Ditch autofocus.
The problem with fireworks is that your camera can’t automatically focus when there is nothing in the sky to focus on! If your camera struggles to focus or has a delay before it takes the picture, then you should probably ditch autofocus.
Most lenses have a physical AF/MF switch on the outside of the lens that disables autofocus. If you toggle off autofocus (AF), then you will be using manual focus (MF). You have two options here:
- If you’ve arrived early to the fireworks show, you can autofocus in the last bit of light you have, and then switch off the autofocus. Focus on the ground where the fireworks will be set off, or something near where they’ll be exploding. Then, when you turn off the autofocus, your camera will still be focused where you need it to be.
- You could manually focus to infinity. Turn off the autofocus and twist the smaller of your focus rings to the infinity symbol (a sideways 8 on the lens). Then, look through your viewfinder while you watch the fireworks and twist the larger focus ring. One way will make it blurrier, and one will make it crisper. Fiddle with it until everything looks nice and sharp, and then don’t touch it again!
As long as you leave your tripod in the same position, you can focus once and then take pictures as needed. However, if you move your camera or tripod, you’ll need to set focus again.
MORE TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING FIREWORKS
6. Think about your composition/location.
Once you know where you firework show is scheduled, you’ll want to think about where you shoot. You might want to choose your location based on what you’ll see in the foreground of your images when the fireworks erupt. An angle with an interesting skyline or water can elevate an image above and beyond.
Sometimes you might have less control over your location (like if you’re watching with family or can’t arrive early to choose a spot), but you can still figure out how to compose it well. For instance, a tree in the foreground might provide some context for scale, or a good balancing element. You might just prefer to capture the explosions against a black background too!
7. Timing is everything!
Be prepared for some trial and error here – you will want to take take a lot of photos because many will be duds. There’s a lot of guesswork in the timing of when a firework will explode!
Don’t wait until you see a huge firework to take the shot, or you will likely be disappointed. You’ll want to click your shutter button at the beginning of a burst so you don’t miss the “blooming” look of the fireworks. This takes a bit of luck, but as the show progresses you’re likely to get a hang of the timing.
If you see fireworks that are visible as they shoot up into the air, then trigger those as soon as you see the trail. Many of those types of fireworks explode lower, and the trail is a nice visual touch too.
Pin this to find it for next year:
You can totally use your DSLR camera to capture the fireworks – I hope you capture something awesome!