Tips for Taking Great Photos of Fireworks

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Tips for Taking Great Photos of Fireworks
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Fireworks are exciting and beautiful, so it's no surprise that we often want to capture these pretty explosions on camera. While photographing fireworks takes a little practice, all you need is a slightly advanced point and shoot or DSLR camera. "Keep shooting and take as many photos as you can," advises Amanda Bellucco, a professional photographer living in upstate New York. "This way, you'll figure out what you like best, and you'll have a variety of different images to choose from."

Never Use Your Flash
Flickr user cfaobam

Never Use Your Flash

When shooting fireworks, the flash is unnecessary -- and your camera's flash is unlikely to give you the results you expect anyway. Fireworks provide their own illumination. If you want to illuminate something in the foreground, use a smaller f/stop aperture setting instead of the flash.

Don't Use Autofocus
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Don't Use Autofocus

Fireworks are quick and bright and will only confuse a camera set on autofocus. If possible, switch the autofocus off and then adjust the focus yourself. Set the focus at infinity, since fireworks will always be very far away.

Related: Amanda Bellucco, Professional Photographer

Operate in Manual Mode if Possible
Flickr user GoToVan

Operate in Manual Mode if Possible

If you use an automatic setting when shooting fireworks, your camera will try to use a flash and use the lowest aperture setting possible, neither of which will give you satisfying results. Your camera's Fireworks Mode will give decent results, but Manual mode is even better. Keep reading for details.

Use a Slow Shutter Speed
Flickr user Alanpaone

Use a Slow Shutter Speed

"Timed exposure is critical," says Patrick Williams, a professional photographer who's serviced such clients as Porsche, "The Wall Street Journal" and Microsoft. "You have to have your shutter open long enough to catch the actual explosion of the fireworks and register the light trails."

Adjust the Aperture Setting
Flickr user GoToVan

Adjust the Aperture Setting

Start shooting with a shutter speed of 2 seconds and an aperture of f8 and see if you like the result. The smaller the f-number (like f4 or even f2), the brighter the fireworks (and surrounding image) will be. Also, the longer your shutter speed, the more fireworks and the longer your light trails will be. Try a shutter speed of 4 seconds, and make it longer or shorter as needed.

Keep Your ISO Low
Flickr user princecat95

Keep Your ISO Low

"ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera's image sensor light," explains Bellucco. A higher ISO setting is more sensitive to light, but can be marred by digital noise. Bellucco recommends an ISO setting of 100, which won't introduce grainy noise in your image.

Always Use a Tripod
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Always Use a Tripod

When your shutter speed is low, your images are more prone to turning out blurry. To fix this problem, use a tripod to steady the camera. If you don't have a tripod on hand, Williams suggests using your surroundings. That includes the ground, a car hood, rocks or wide fence.

Time It Right
Flickr user El Coleccionista de Instantes

Time It Right

Timing your photograph takes a bit of trial and error, but a good rule of thumb is to take the photograph as the fireworks leave the ground. You can usually hear the whistle of the launch or see the light trailing upward before the firework explodes.

Choose the Best Location
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Choose the Best Location

Finding the right site to shoot from is key in capturing great fireworks photographs. Try to avoid really intense streetlights and large crowds. Try taking photographs from an elevated location, like this one high above San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, to avoid foreground distractions. Williams also suggest choosing a location that's upwind from the fireworks to avoid smoke interference.

Related: Patrick Williams, Professional Photographer

Try the Fireworks Setting
fireworks display image by BHughes Photography from Fotolia.com

Try the Fireworks Setting

"Fireworks mode on point-and-shoots generally employs the settings you'll need to get a decently proper exposure with some pretty, painterly light streaks," notes Bellucco. If you aren't familiar with your manual settings, give the fireworks setting a try.

Related: Amanda Bellucco, Professional Photographer

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