Alex Stephen Teuscher | Photographer, Geneva, Switzerland | Photographe, Geneve, Suisse | Commercial, Corporate, Event +

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How to get better fireworks photos

geneva_fireworks

With tomorrow being the Fourth of July, and Geneva's grand firework display approaching, I thought now would be as good a time as any to offer some helpful tips on how to get stunning photos of fireworks.

Fireworks are a tricky subject - they move and disappear, you're shooting in the dark pretty much, and it can be a pain to get a good location to photograph from. The following tips will help you get around some of that.

Tripod & other important things to remember to bring

Great firework photos need long exposures and by far the best way to get them is with the use of a tripod. If it isn't possible to bring a tripod, do your best to set the camera on a flat surface or brace it against a railing, etc. If you don't have a remote shutter release, it is a worthwhile investment, as you are trying to minimize camera shake as much as possible during the exposure. These vary from camera to camera but almost all manufacturers make them.

Also don't forget to bring extra memory cards and at least one extra fully charged battery just in case. You will be taking a lot of pictures, and the memory cards are going to fill up very quickly. 

Composition and the importance of getting there early

Firework shows naturally attract a lot of people, so it helps to get there early. Scout the location beforehand and think about what will be in the foreground and background of your shots. You also want to avoid having people's heads popping up in your photos. Try and visualize what part of the sky the fireworks are likely to be fired into. I must also stress the importance of keeping your camera level, nothing can ruin a great firework photo as easily as a crooked horizon. 

Settings

So you've got all the right equipment with you and have a great location. Now what? Making sure you have the right settings of course! 

I recommend shooting in full manual mode (M) and using manual focus. By using Manual mode, you have full power over your cameras important settings like aperture, shutter and ISO. Auto focusing in low light is very difficult for most cameras and you will end up missing a lot of shots while the autofocusing system struggles to find something to lock onto.

Aperture - Apertures in the mid to small range work best so set your camera to anywhere between F/5.6 and F/11.

Shutter speed - The best images of fireworks often show the movement and length of the trails. To capture this you need a nice long exposure. Set your camera to 'Bulb' mode. This mode allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter button. Using this method, hit the shutter button as soon as the firework explodes and keep pressing it down until the firework has finished 'exploding' (generally anywhere from 2-4 seconds and sometimes longer). 

ISO - Fireworks are bright so there is absolutely no need to boost the ISO high. Keep it at your cameras lowest setting, which is usually ISO 100.

Manual focus -  As mentioned above, stay away from using your cameras autofocusing system, you will end up throwing away a lot more images than you will keep. Switch to manual and keep focus close to infinity.

Be trigger happy

Don't be shy to take a lot of photos when it comes to fireworks. There is a lot of trial and error involved, if it doesn't look quite right, adjust accordingly. The more you shoot, the greater the chance of landing the 'perfect' shot.

Switch it up

Experiment with different focal lengths and perspectives. Zoom in close to fill the frame with lots of color and create a more abstract image. Also take in your surroundings, like silhouettes and people watching the fireworks around you. Some of the best shots include elements other than just fireworks themselves, like notable landmarks or buildings.

Bonus tips

-Try and get the majority of your shots around the start of the show. After a time the sky will fill with smoke and can hurt the overall look of your photos.

-Switch off long exposure noise reduction. Depending on your exposure time, your camera will take a second blank exposure immediately after. It then merges the 2 images together, filling in the shadow areas of your image (where noise is most prevalent) with the blank image to reduce noise. Needless to say, this puts your camera out of commission for a bit, and with fireworks going off so rapidly you will miss many opportunities. Trust me, this is extremely frustrating! Be sure to switch off the function before the show kicks off so you won't waste time fiddling around in camera menus.

-If you have a zoom lens with you, experiment with zooming during the length of your exposure. Try this at different speeds and zooming in and out, it can lead to some very unusual and highly artistic images.

The settings I've listed above are meant to give you a good starting point only, adapt them to your situation and equipment and see what works best for you! Have a great time shooting and would love to see some of your results, please feel free to share them in the comments below along with any other tips you might have.