PHOTOGRAPHY 101 | How to Shoot Fireworks

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I know I should have posted this a few weeks earlier in time for the annual Pyromusical Competition at the Mall of Asia; unfortunately I was on the road too much and had started this photography series a tad too late. So, with one more week left for this year’s Philippine International Pyromusical Competition, allow me to share the ins and outs of shooting those fires in the sky.

First off, for successfully shooting a fireworks show, you need a sturdy tripod to avoid blurring your photos. A tripod would also help you shoot longer shutter speeds to capture fire trails. A camera remote is a plus, but if you have none, you can just rely on your camera’s shutterspeed setting. Okay, for non-tech camera users, I know this may be a bit complicated, but hang in there. I’ll try to explain the steps in as simple as possible manner.

Another important thing is your position relative to the fireworks, this depends if you want a fireworks only photos or if you want foreground subjects incorporated in your shots. I actually like shooting both but if you want to shoot the fireworks exclusively, be sure to get to the site early and plant your tripod ahead of the competition. I probably don’t have to tell you that the Pyromusical is a big crowd drawer.

Composition-wise, be alert of your surroundings.  Know where the fireworks would be coming from and try to incorporate other subjects with it to avoid a boring standard fireworks photograph. Since the Pyromusical is being done at the bay, the reflections from the water is a nice thing to add to your images. And as with the basics of photography, fill your frame with your fiery subject.
Okay, so mount your cameras to your tripods, remove all your camera filters and let’s start.

Set your camera to manual mode (that’s the M on your camera dial) so you can have full control as to how your photos would be taken. Then set your camera’s aperture anywhere from f/8 to f/16, this determines the size of your lens opening. Next would be your shutterspeed, this determines how long your shutter would be open, which you can set from 1 second to 6 seconds. If you have a remote, you can just set your camera to bulb mode and click and unclick at your preferred time, if you have none, you have to change the shutterspeed manually.

For your ISO, set it to the lowest possible value to keep your images free of noise. And lastly for your white balance, have it on tungsten (the one with the lightbulb icon) to preserve the original colors of the fireworks. If you can shoot in RAW, do so, the advantages of further tweaking your colors in RAW format and recovering overexposed highlights outweighs its oversized file size.

If you guys are not familiar on how to set your aperture and shutterspeeds, it’s all on your camera’s manual booklet; it’s no rocket science I promise. Practice changing your aperture and shutterspeed in your room while on manual mode so you won’t panic when it’s actually time to shoot them fireworks.
If you want to capture a combination of fireworks, set your shutterspeed longer (around 4 to 6 seconds or more if you like) but be sure to move your aperture to a higher setting f/11 to f/16 to keep the fireworks from being overexposed, you don’t want to lose the colors of the light streaks. Make sure that you don’t set your shutterspeed too long or you’ll just get a mess of fireworks all over your frame. The one above is at 30 seconds and I was lucky it was not as messed up as I thought it would be.
To capture short bursts of fireworks, which I prefer since they look simpler and more defined, set your shutterspeed to between 1 to 3 seconds and your aperture to f/8 to f/11. Time your shots to the pyrotechnic blooms and you’ll get pretty good results. The one above is set at 1.7 seconds.

A note on your aperture settings, the lower it is (f/2.8 to f/5.6), the fatter the firework trails will look. Vice versa, the higher it is (f/8 to f/16), the thinner the trails would be.
For lenses to use, it is actually a matter of preference. I prefer a wider field of view so I use an 11-16mm ultrawide lens, but for best results, an 18-55mm or an 18-105mm kitlens would be more than adequate, you can zoom out for a full view of the fireworks and you can zoom in if you want to shoot a detailed explosion.

That’s basically the technical side of shooting a pyrotechnic show. It is a bit technical for casual camera users, but it’s really not that hard once you start practicing. But remember though, like all things in photography, the main key is still timing. You may be mister technical and all, but if you don’t have timing, then you might as well be shooting in Auto mode. Happy fireworks shooting everyone!

Additional Tips from my Dear Readers [If you have some more, don’t be shy to share]

Albert Cuino writes: 
Sir, this is a helpful post. Would like to add a little about setting the lens to manual (focusing) after getting it to focus on something far, say, the horizon. I find that it really helps in shooting fireworks.

Cleober writes:
Fireworks Photography demystified. Well said bro. Keep up the good work. If I may add, should you opt to try long manual exposure (example: 15-30 sec.) a quick and easy way to prevent over exposure caused by too many overlapping or combination fireworks is to use a dark baseball cap or a like to cover and un cover your lens. this also allows you to choose which fireworks combination you wish to capture. Enjoy shooting everyone :)


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  1. Idol naka pwesto ka ba dun sa likod ng gloria maric ccp

    Kagabi nandun ako =)

  2. Jaime
    Palipat lipat ako ng pwesto brad eh, swerte lang at nabiyayaan ng media pass :P

  3. happy fireworks shooting!!
    this one needs practicing..
    I thought I came ready when it's was time..
    Timing is crucial in shooting fireworks!

  4. Ang galing! Sayang last pyro ko na yung last week:)

  5. Wow! Galing! Natuto na naman ako!

  6. Such lovely pictures! I've been observing the pyromusical for three nights already and it's quite a struggle for me to take perfect shots using my point and shoot and with the help of the mall railings.

    This post definitely helped me to take better pictures for next Saturday's show. Thank you! :)

  7. Thank you thank you for the photography tips! I really look forward to posts on this series :)

  8. Great shots! I usually just mount my cam on a sturdy surface since tamad ako magdala ng tripod lagi. =)

  9. amazing shots! galing talaga! i don't have words for the second pic...basta, sobrang ganda!

  10. I always learn something from you christian. Thanks for the detailed post about shooting fireworks. Sayang last pyro ko na ang last week. Hanggang sa muling pagkikita. Sayang hindi ako nakapagpaalam kay Miss Punky .

  11. Thanks for this very informative post. Once I accomplished my goal of increased daily traffic for my blog, I will begin photography lesson using your photography 101 articles. Right now, my Nikon D5100 just sits in my desk waiting to be utilized. Now, I know where to start. Thanks again.


  12. Now I'm learning how to capture this beautiful fireworks... ang hirap kaya nila kuhanin lalo na kund hindi alam yung right mode like for me na hindi masyadong familiar sa camera tricks and setting. Thanks for sharing this and again wonderful shots of yours.

  13. Fireworks Photography demystified. Well said bro. Keep up the good work. If I may add, should you opt to try long manual exposure (example: 15-30 sec.) a quick and easy way to prevent over exposure caused by too many overlapping or combination fireworks is to use a dark baseball cap or a like to cover and un cover your lens. this also allows you to choose which fireworks combination you wish to capture. Enjoy shooting everyone :)

  14. Kelangan ko ito last week eh kasi nagpyro ako... Hehehe! Pero for sure magagamit ko pang tong tutorial mo in the near future.

    Anyways, ang ganda talaga ng mga photos mo. Idol talaga! =)

  15. Wow! This is very helpful! Thanks for sharing this :D

  16. hi! i've been using my camera for years and this excites me to experiment with the settings of my camera again. thank you! :D

  17. hope we could capture nice shots on the 17th hehe! thanks for your uber helpful tips! gotta practice changing up the settings though haha!

  18. Francis
    Practice lang yan bro :)

    Ako rin, last na rin yung last week, late yung post ko haha

    Shoot na!

    Tripod is the key! Dala ka kahit mabigat :)

    The Sunset Goddess
    No problem ma'am :)

    Haha yun lang, dala ka maliit na tripod, yung parang gorillapod :)

    Senyor Lakwatsero
    Thank you! :)

    Haha dapat sabay sabay tayo nagpaalam kay ms.punky

    No problem bro :)

    Ayan, next time you'll be ready :)

    Sinama ko yung tips mo bro sa main article :)

    Punta ka na sa last show! Maganda lagi yung show ng Philippines :)

    No problem Pipay :)

    Time to get off auto mode :P

    May media pass na kayo? PM me if you want one :)

  19. Wowow! Super awesome ang last pic. I am really clueless about the right aperture and shutter speed to use when shooting fireworks so this post would be a great help. Thanks Christian!

  20. This is a great help. So do you tweak your settings during the shoot? Mukhang mahirap a. Baka maka-miss ng magandang shots. ;)

  21. Wow! Ang ganda ng fireworks capture mo! na-alala ko tuloy dismal attempt ko last January hahahah. Thanks for the tips, try ko to next opportunity =)

  22. Earl
    No problem Earl!

    Yes I do tweak the settings as I shoot, you have to adjust accordingly shempre :)

    No problem po, goodluck! :)