Fireworks are a top photography subject during New Year’s and other firework-heavy holidays. Besides being beautiful, they have a festive atmosphere that can instantly capture the mood of a special event. In fact, they’re so important for some holidays that photographing them becomes essential for documenting the event.
Not getting good photos of fireworks in these situations can feel frustrating. Even if you get nice shots of the people or party atmosphere, you can walk away feeling disappointed because you missed the main attraction.
Fortunately, fireworks are not too difficult to photograph. You don’t have to be an expert to get excellent pictures. If you have a manual camera or a smartphone app to control shutter speed, you can get cool firework images, even as a beginner.
The hardest part isn’t the technical side, but rather getting a good view of the fireworks and composing your image despite obstacles blocking your view. The images and ideas below can help you plan your photos and get cool shots regardless of your situation.
Inspiring Ideas for Photographing Fireworks
With that in mind, we’re going to skip the camera settings and head straight into ideas for getting beautiful firework photos in a variety of situations. The only point worth repeating here is the importance of having a stable surface for your camera, like a tripod. By stabilizing your camera, you’ll have more flexibility for changing your shutter speed and less chance of getting blurry, disappointing photos.
All of the following photos come from our creative community of professional and amateur photographers, both on Flickr and via our newsletter. We had a photo challenge asking for firework images, and many of these pictures come from that challenge. We hope you’ll be as inspired by them as we were!
Start shooting around sunset or twilight.
Although a lot of firework shows start after dark, some events have fireworks before dark, too. For instance, during New Year’s in some areas, you can see fireworks throughout the day on December 31st. Take advantage of these occasions to shoot fireworks against a twilight sky. Then, your images will have more color and detail, as well as a beautiful sky.
Try a longer shutter speed.
If you’re not getting the burst of color you were hoping for, try lengthening your shutter speed. A shutter speed of about 3 seconds is a good place to start, since it will allow you to capture the colorful trails of light.
Don’t feel limited to just 3 seconds, though. Experiment with even longer shutter speeds to see what happens. If the fireworks look too bright and blown-out, just increase your aperture to cut down on the amount of light hitting your sensor.
Don Higgins – Lake Isabella, Ca
Plan for smoke in your composition.
With a longer exposure time, there’s a chance you’ll see drifting smoke from the fireworks in your image. This smoke isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can add to the atmosphere and story of your photo. You just have to keep it in mind when you’re composing your image.
Sometimes, when there are a lot of fireworks, the smoke can get so thick that it blocks the fireworks’ colorfulness. This heavy smoke can be annoying, but it’s also an opportunity to get unique images. Instead of abandoning your shoot because of the smoke, try to work with it. Let it become the main subject of your photos. After all, the smoke is part of the show, too!
Joanne Reid – Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C.
Leander Urmy – Multicolored Bursts
Capture a reflection.
Though large, fireworks can look small in a photo if you’re photographing them at a distance. One way to increase their size, besides zooming in, is to photograph them above water. Then, the water will reflect their light and colors, so your image will have less darkness and more brilliance.
For tips on photographing reflections, check out these 35 amazing examples of reflection photography.
Use the fireworks as a background.
Photographers often approach fireworks as the main subject in their images, but fireworks can be excellent secondary or background subjects, too. Using fireworks as a background subject is a good tactic when you can’t get a good view, or when the surrounding environment is interesting. It can also be a cool idea for casual shoots at home using small fireworks like sparklers.
Marsha J. Serafin – Fireworks
Work with silhouettes.
Similar to using fireworks as a background, shooting silhouettes against brilliant fireworks can produce beautiful photos, even when you’re shooting from a location that isn’t ideal. The firework show may be halfway blocked from view, yet you can still get awesome photos with a good silhouette.
Photograph city lights.
A beautiful city skyline can have the same effect as a silhouette, allowing you to get great firework photos of fireworks even at a distance. Also, because city lights provide more lighting, you can be more flexible with your timing and composition; you don’t have to rely on the fireworks to light the entire scene. With a good cityscape, your photo will be eye-catching regardless of how distant or smoky the fireworks are.
Fill the frame.
If you want to photograph the fireworks alone, try to fill your frame with the fireworks. Otherwise, the fireworks may look small and insignificant compared to the darkness surrounding them. Besides making the fireworks look grander, a close-up shot that fills the frame can also have a strange beauty similar to abstract photography.
Larry Racunas – Fireworks