Sunday, July 5, 2009

How To Take Pictures of Fireworks

Click on images for a larger view
Here's pics from the great display at Lewis-Young Park, north of Louisburg, KS. If you would like to take pictures of fireworks, but don't know how, here is how you do it: You'll need a camera that allows you to take at least a few seconds exposure and to be able to set the focus to manual mode instead of auto-focus. You'll need to attach the camera to a tripod, or at least be able to place it on something to prevent the camera from moving (a beanbag on top of your car will work). A shutter release so that you can fire the camera without touching it is great also. The settings I will mention next are for my Canon XTi, but most digital SLRs will have the same settings. Even some of the better non-SLR digitals will have similar settings. Read your camera's manual to learn how to set all of the following.
Usually you want to adjust the lens to its widest focal length. The lens I used at it's widest is 18mm. You next want to focus the camera to infinity. Do this while it is still bright daylight. I auto-focus the camera on a distant landscape. I then turn off auto-focus with a switch on the lens. The reason you do this is that the camera will find it very tough to auto-focus in the dark, and even if it does find focus, you will miss many shots and the majority of them will be out of focus. Once auto-focus is switched off, do not touch the lens or adjust the zoom. Doing this will throw the lens out of focus. If it is already dark and you need to re-focus, focus on a distant streetlight or the Moon, if it up.
Now change the shutter speed dial to "M" (manual) and adjust the speed to "Bulb". Then make sure the f-stop value is set to the smallest number. In my case it is f/3.5. The ISO speed should be set to its lowest value. In my camera it is 100 ISO.
Now all you have to do is frame the camera and wait for the show to begin. You will find that getting fireworks is just a matter of timing and looking at your view screen to see what you got. Most of the time you only have to hold the shutter open for 2 to 4 seconds, depending on how bright the show is. It's easy to over-expose some of the brighter displays. It's all a matter of luck, but with these instructions, you should be able to get some good shots. I took about 140 images and got just a few that I liked, so don't be afraid to take a lot of images. With digital cameras, taking pictures doesn't really cost anything until you print them.
One thing to be prepared for is dew. Here in the Midwest, most nights are very dewy, so I sometimes wrap the lens barrel with a dew heater. I made the heater by soldering a bunch of resistors and covering them with wide velcro so they don't short out. The wires from the heater are attached to a 12-volt battery.
So you don't forget how to do this a year from now, write this stuff down and keep it with your camera.


  1. What should the White Balance be set on?.....

  2. Usually the best White Balance setting is either Auto or Daylight. Both will work just fine.