Happy Independence Day! Here are some quick tips and reminders when out photographing fireworks this weekend:

  • Gear — If you’re shooting with an SLR then it’s necessary to use a tripod and cable release. If you have a point-and-shoot, then have some fun and play around with the “fireworks” setting (hand-held). This is your time to experiment! Last year I even used my iPhone to get a few shots.
  • Location — Location is important—if you want an unobstructed view then stay away from trees and powerlines. If you want to add the surrounding area then try to find a spot that “frames” the fireworks well and include the ground. If there’s water (lake, ocean, etc.) then put it in your shot! If you’re positioned well you might even get some fireworks reflections in the water.
  • Exposure — Shoot in BULB mode, and play around with the aperture setting (set it somewhere in the middle, like between f/8 and f/16) and test out your exposures before the fireworks start. Watch out for bright lights around you that could “bleed” into the shot. When you’re photographing the fireworks try to keep the shutter open for about 5-15 seconds (the time will always vary … but those bursts will pile up and just be one giant white light in your image if you keep it open too long).
  • Technique — If you don’t want to see the “trails” of the fireworks making their way to the sky, then bring along a black or dark gray piece of thick cardboard to your location (a normal gray-card works well for this). Cover the front of the lens with the cardboard and open the shutter. Keep the lens covered as the fireworks are making their way to the sky, and then uncover the lens just before they burst. Keep the shutter open and repeat this several times to get one shot with “bursts-only” in the image.
  • Fun! Experiment and have fun! I was out photographing fireworks when I was in high-school shooting with film, and didn’t have the luxury of chimping my shots. It was a lot of guess-work and also experimentation, but I was usually able to get some good images (the photo in this blog post is one of my favorites from my film days). So go out there and try something new. Maybe you could play around with HDR, or do some light-painting with sparklers. I absolutely love this kind of photography because you never quite know what to expect.