Few things are more exciting than a fireworks display—except maybe a photograph of a fireworks display. If you can visit the location of the fireworks show ahead of time, it’ll help you gauge the best angles for your photos. But you won’t be able to predict the crowds, so make sure you scout out a couple of backup, super-secret locations too.
You can certainly get great shots of fireworks with a smartphone, but the rules of engagement are a bit different when shooting with a phone instead of a full-on camera. Because of the missing optical-zoom capabilities, you’re going to want to be closer to the action with a phone than you would be with any other kind of camera. You can still get great shots of fireworks with faster shutter speeds (and you won’t need a tripod).
Apple recently announced it will open up the iPhone’s manual camera controls to third-party developers at WWDC 2014, so there should be apps that let you take full control of manual settings by this time next year. If you’d rather put a personal touch on your fireworks photos, get ready to dive into the manual controls. When using a slow shutter speed, a tripod is necessary unless you want to get really creative and light-painty. For many people in the USA, you get about two opportunities per year to take photos of fireworks – New Years Eve and Independence Day. Despite all of these unknowns, the secret to take pictures of fireworks that you’ll love is to do as much planning and preparation as you can. If you’re photographing fireworks in the city, pick a nice skyline or prominent building to give the viewer a sense of location. Claim your location early, because thousands of other people will fill the space around you. If you’re keeping your shutter open for a few seconds and there is a lot of smoke in the area, you may end up with a very ugly scene.
I also recommend taking some shots just before the show starts, in case you need to do any blending later in Photoshop. How do you set your exposure when you don’t know how bright the environment will be during the show? I’ve found that the best way to plan is to use that test shot of your environment before the fireworks start. Remember, having the shutter open doesn’t mean that your exposure is gathering light. Your effective exposure may only be 15 seconds, even if the shutter was actually open for a couple of minutes.
It’s because there are sometimes gaps and lulls in the shots, particularly if the show is choreographed to music or a story. Longer exposures allow time for light to gather, but it also allows for multiple bursts of fireworks in the same frame. The difference is only 1.7 seconds of exposure, but that was enough to kill the image even on a dark night. Using a much lower ISO, I can vary my exposure time from about five seconds on either side of my sweet spot and still get  usable photo.
Lightroom and other tools do an outstanding job of noise reduction, and they don’t cause you to miss a shot. I’ve watched some people point their camera up at the sky to capture fireworks bursts while completely forgetting about any foreground or background elements. Fireworks against a black sky are less interesting than fireworks over a cityscape of landmark of some kind. 1: Open the Camera Calibration panel and make sure the Process is set to the current revision. You may need to remove dust spots or make other changes, so don’t forget to include your normal post processing routine.
It’s easy to get caught up in your photography details and forget to have a good time. Being outdoors and taking lots of photos with exposures to suit eats up a lot of power in your charge. Take the biggest size capacity memory card or memory stick (if it’s a Sony) because believe me, you’ll need it. When taking pictures of fireworks with your tripod, one trick to use is to keep the shutter button down for the entire time the fireworks have exploded in their array of colour.
If your camera is an SLR or has some good manual controls then you can choose how you want the fireworks to come out.
Once you feel confident to start learning how to take photos of fireworks, try an event and good luck! Love your articles Amy, they’re extremely interesting, especially since I am new to photography. We have fireworks in my street this time every year, even though they are small, I can still apply the principles.

Could you message me with a few pointers about how you made this site look this cool, I would be thankful. I absolutely love this site, information like this is so important to my digital photography. I haven’t really seen any truly striking black and white fireworks photos, are you sure you want to do black and white? You obviously want a clear shot of the sky, and a nice wide-angle view of the skyline should do wonders for your shot composition.
But if you have a phone-friendly tripod, you might as well download an app that lets you adjust your shutter speed to capture dramatic light trails—and avoid the fireworks being the only thing visible in your photos. Still, there are a few apps that let you take control of the shutter speed on the iPhone camera right now: LongExpo, Slow Shutter!, Slow Shutter Cam, and Slow Shutter Camera+. You won’t be adjusting your focus from shot to shot in this scenario, so flip your camera to manual focus and set that focus to infinity. You may want to press the shutter button just as you see shells launch into the sky so that your long-exposure shot depicts the light trails from that upward journey as well as the full drama of the explosion. Any movement of the camera will make the light trails and other objects in the scene look like blurs, but this feature can also be used to great creative effect. Some let you adjust the full sheet of in-camera settings, while others just let you control the shutter button and get a live view of the scene from your camera. Fireworks experts won’t launch some explosives if the wind is too high other other circumstances make it unsafe.
If you’re late to the party, you may miss out because you failed to scout a good location and stake your claim before the sun goes down. Sometimes it’s good to go to an area where no one else is getting the same shot as you. Take a few photos to make sure that you’re happy and then leave your camera on the tripod.
The key is to know how much exposure time (different than shutter speed) works without under or over-exposing your environment. You don’t want to have your foreground or background subject collecting light on your sensor when there are no shots in the air. Given the ISO and Aperture I mentioned above, 15 seconds is roughly the sweet spot for time open. The second photo had more time to gather light, but it also caught more bursts in the same frame.
It may be useful if you want to cut them out later to use in a graphic, but otherwise, fireworks on the night sky all alone are as boring as counting pellets in a bunny farm. Here are the steps that I take in my post processing in Lightroom to complete my fireworks photos.
Hold down the Shift key and then Double-Click the labels for the Blacks, Whites, Shadows and Highlights – in that order. You may want to do these with the Adjustment Brush only on the fireworks trails, or globally. I like to move the Masking to get the bold lines (hold the Alt or Option key as you move the Masking slider) and then sharpen just those areas. One of the reasons I enjoy using a cable release and a tripod is so that I don’t have to look through the viewfinder while the show is running. Those are also things you want to share with your viewers when you present your fireworks photos. I share posts to help you make the most of your own photography and blogging, along with reviews of the products and services I use and recommend. For a start, understand that fireworks are short lived, explosions of colour which have an intensity lasting for just a few seconds.
Once captivated and determined to get a really good picture, you’ll be there for as long as it takes snapping away and will most likely loose track of time. The picture will be compressed when you get it onto the computer and email it anyway, so chose the highest resolution so the image does not loose clarity and so that even some of the noise from the night sky will be compressed. It’s not until they are in the sky that you can really tell where to focus, what to focus on, how to set the camera, and you can’t do all that in a few seconds. The moment they show signs of fading, release your finger and let the camera close the shutter. But not too long: I recommend holding the shutter button down, or release the cable after about one and a half seconds up to five seconds.
Now that I’ve given you something to think about with your exposure why not try altering your angle? Make sure it’s a good clear shot without street lights getting into the camera to detract from the beautiful images on your photo, or passing cars that may potentially create light streaks in your picture. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. If it’s blowing towards you from the direction of the fireworks, you may end up with increasingly murky photos as the show goes on.

If the sky starts filling up with smoke, you can still get some good shots if you use a tighter zoom that features less of the smoke-filled skyline. For Android, the best bet is probably Camera FV-5, which turns the smartphone camera into a full-fledged manual shooter. The one exception to this rule would be the Nokia Lumia 1020, which has a 41-megapixel sensor that provides enough resolution so that digital zoom doesn’t look super-crappy.
If you’d rather keep your images looking tack-sharp, use a tripod and a remote-control app or shutter-release cable. Then that smokey haze will be in the rest of your shots if there isn’t a wind to blow it clear. Not only does that allow you to keep the same composition from shot to shot, but it lets you reduce your ISO to avoid noise and keep the shutter open for a long period of time. You can clean up your fireworks photo in post-processing if you have a clean environmental image before the first shot. Otherwise, your auto-focus may start hunting while it tries to define a subject during the show. That’s time when you cannot shoot until the processing finishes and your camera is ready to write the result to your memory card. You can step back or off to the side for your composition and use whatever focal length works best.
Taking pictures of fireworks involves a little bit of planning, not just point and shoot and hope for the best. They need the depth in a shot, so make sure the composition is in keeping the appearance of being ‘big.’ After all, you want to convey their majesty and power in the photo. There is nothing worse than the camera running out of power at the crucial moment or the thing blinking at you, saying you have one shot left and you haven’t finished! What you are doing here is keeping the ‘eye’ of the camera open long enough for the light and colour to get into the lens, senor and create a grand image for you. Also choose a spot where people won’t constantly walk in front of the camera, stare at it and wave whilst you are trying to take the picture (pet hate). This can enhance the creativity of your angle and shots by simply using a different movement on your camera. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.
In bulb mode, the camera takes a shot for as long as you press the shutter button, so you can start the exposure exactly when you want and end it just as precisely. Many modern cameras have sidecar mobile apps that let you take control of the camera without touching it. If you don’t allow for that in your composition, then you lose the very thing you set out to shoot. Getting good digital shots of fireworks is about using your settings properly to expose the picture without getting too much noise in the picture.
Perhaps even pick something in the distance that you think might be the same distance away as the fireworks would be, and set the camera to that.
Longer exposure times do indeed compensate for the lack of light, but the only draw back with digital is that the longer the aperture stays open, the more noise creeps into the photo. If you’re not sure, try both types of exposure and a something in between and see what you like best.
You can use a range of battle-tested manual settings to capture dramatic photos of those explosions in the sky. Even better, use rooftops creatively, sneak onto the fireworks barge as a stowaway—anything to get really close to the action and force your smartphone to expose the shot for the fireworks themselves. This may seem counterintuitive, but some stabilization systems actually introduce shake if there isn’t any, and some of them also boost the ISO or use a faster shutter speed to snap a crisper shot. This is especially handy for fireworks photos, because you can unwittingly move the camera slightly every time you physically touch its shutter button or controls. You often see that sort of technique in newspapers and magazines displaying fireworks over a city. If you choose auto focus you’ll find your shot will be gone as the fireworks evaporate into the blackness of the night sky.
Open both pictures in PhotoShop; select a rectangle or freeform part on the sky of the second photo, copy that as a layer on top of the first photo, then merge the results.
Even if you’re using a smartphone, there are a few apps and quick tips that will help you nab the best shots. Angle it so that the shot is 90 degrees vertical, and even whereby the bottom of the picture is at an angle.

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