Most folks love big, bold, noisy, spectacular fireworks displays, unless they’re dog owners or curmudgeons. The fireworks show of the year is usually in honor of Independence Day, the Fourth of July. Here are some tips to get great photos of the fireworks display in your town.
- Find a great vantage point. You’ll want to have a clear view of the aerial bursts, but with something interesting in the foreground. Since watching fireworks is a shared experience, placing some of the rest of the crowd at the bottom of your frame provides a little context.
- Use a wide-angle lens. Most of the time the bursts will be big enough and close enough that you’ll need a focal length around 28mm (full frame 35mm) to capture them and still include a bit of horizon below. If you’re a long ways away you’ll want a longer lens.
- Use a tripod. You’ll be leaving your shutter open for several seconds at a time to capture one or more complete bursts and there’s no way to hold your camera still without a tripod.
- Use a remote release. That way you won’t shake your camera when you operate the shutter release.
- Use manual focus. Set your focus to infinity. You don’t want your camera’s autofocus to be hunting for focus on every shot and all the bursts will be far enough away that they’ll be tack-sharp at infinity.
- Use manual exposure. Set your camera to ISO 100 and f/8. Set the shutter to “B” (for bulb). Press the remote release and hold the button down while one or more aerial shells explode in the sky above you.
- Consider shooting a few frames of your foreground before the sky gets completely dark. That way you’ll have some foreground detail for the composite you’re going to assemble later.
- Make sure your battery is fully charged. When using the Bulb setting the camera is sucking juice to keep the shutter open.
- Start with a fresh, empty memory card. The show may not last all that long and you don’t want to miss the best part of the display because you’re changing cards.
- Keep your shutter open for just 1-3 aerial bursts. Plan to assemble the best shots into a composite in Photoshop later. Back in the film days we had to get all the pieces together on one frame in the camera, which was a lot harder.
Assembling your composite fireworks photo in Photoshop is pretty easy. Load your dusk shot first as the background layer. Then drag individual frames with your favorite fireworks bursts onto your master file, creating a new layer for each one.
Here’s the critical tip to make it easy: set the layer blend mode to Lighten. Since the fireworks are brighter than the sky in your background then only the fireworks themselves will show when the blend mode is set to lighten. You may need to add a layer mask and hide any extraneous bright spots from your fireworks layers.
All three of the examples above are composites assembled in Photoshop.
This last fireworks shot is from Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. It was made as a single exposure and finished with a little adjustment work in Topaz Adjust to enhance the contrast and to get rid of the smokey look in the background.