A group of people, seen from behind, watch fireworks. One person in the foreground is in focus, and warmly dressed in overcoat and beanie hat.


How to photograph fireworks in new and creative ways

Colourful fireworks set against the night sky are a spectacle that many of us find magical – so why not capture this sense of wonder in a photograph? As well as achieving the best settings for firework photography, it’s important to think about the other elements that make the event, and your photos, special.

Fireworks are most frequently seen on occasions such as New Year's Eve, special birthdays, weddings and festivals that are often experienced with friends or loved ones around you, so including them in the frame will help you capture the event in fun and creative ways.

In our tips below, we’ve covered this and more by answering 10 frequently asked questions, including how to select the best shutter speed for fireworks photography and how to use new ideas to get some truly unique and creative shots. Whether you are using a PowerShot camera, a mirrorless camera or a DSLR, we’ve got your fireworks photography guide covered.

1. What’s the best location for photographing fireworks?

It’s well worth thinking about what location will help you to take the most powerful images possible, so plan ahead and find a spot that will be free of obstructions. Check the location while there’s still daylight and find out the direction in which the wind will be blowing.

This is particularly important if there will be a bonfire close by, as it will help you to avoid smoke or embers creeping into the frame. If you plan on using a tripod, you’ll also want to set yourself up in a spot where other people are unlikely to get in the way as you shoot.

2. How do I photograph the atmosphere of fireworks at a party?

In a long-exposure image, a sillhouetted figure has drawn a bright pink five-pointed star with a sparkler.

A good way to capture the atmosphere of a party is to photograph family members having fun with sparklers, using their imagination to create fun and artistic patterns with light. On the Canon Photo Companion App, you'll find a complete tutorial taking you through the best techniques and settings for light painting.

Another way to create an interesting shot is to capture the reflection of fireworks in a window, with friends or family members looking out from inside. Take a couple of test shots to make sure the people in the image are well exposed, then keep those settings for when the action unfolds. If you’re using a PowerShot camera such as the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, or any EOS interchangeable-lens camera, make sure to capture images in RAW format, as this will give you maximum flexibility when adjusting the exposure for different parts of the image in post-processing using Canon Digital Photo Professional.

3. How can I get sharp photos of fireworks?

It’s difficult to know when the biggest and most colourful fireworks will explode, so it’s a good idea to set your camera to a continuous shooting mode, also known as burst mode. This will increase your chances of capturing one or two images with particularly dramatic explosions.

If your camera is on a tripod, you can use the Canon Camera Connect app to wirelessly control your camera with your phone or tablet. Alternatively, you could use a wired or wireless remote, or even your camera’s self-timer feature. All of these will enable you to trigger the exposure without touching the camera, which will help to avoid camera shake, keeping your images sharp.

4. How do I photograph fireworks without a tripod?

If you’re using a camera handheld, use the Image Stabilizer to keep your images sharp (if your camera or lens features IS). This will help to banish any minor shake that comes from holding the camera, but be aware that it may lower your shutter speed if you shoot in Aperture mode.

If there’s a switch on your camera’s lens, you may be able to activate or deactivate Image Stabilizer here – otherwise, you can do it through your camera’s menu settings.

5. What lens is best for fireworks?

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While an image that’s filled with nothing but colourful fireworks can look impressive, including some buildings or other structures can provide more interest and context. Zoom lenses will also allow you to vary your compositions more easily, which is especially helpful when using a tripod. A wide zoom lens, such as the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM or Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, will allow you to get everything into the frame. But you can also get great shots using the lens on a compact superzoom camera, or the kit lens that came with your camera.

6. How do I focus when photographing fireworks?

By setting your camera to focus at a pre-determined distance, you don’t have to worry about focus at the point of capture and you can simply concentrate on getting your composition and exposure spot on.

Turn your camera to manual focus, or move the focusing switch on your lens to the MF position, and adjust your focus to infinity to begin with. If your lens has a small window that displays different focusing distances, this is at the end with the ∞ symbol. This is probably where you’ll want your focus if you're concentrating on capturing the fireworks in the sky.

If you want to include elements in the foreground of your photo, focus on a point between the foreground and background, around one third of the way into the scene, to make everything sharp. This technique is called hyperfocal focusing, and you can read more about finding the ideal hyperfocal distance on the Canon Photo Companion app.

7. What settings should I use to photograph fireworks?

If you're shooting handheld, start with the slowest shutter speed you can use without introducing camera shake. Wide-angle lenses are easier to hold for longer, and lenses with Image Stabilizer (those with IS in the full lens name) significantly help to keep shots sharp. If you’re using a camera on a tripod, you can use a much slower speed, such as one or two seconds, as your starting point.

Adjusting your ISO after you have set your shutter speed and aperture will enable you to get a good exposure. A lower ISO, such as ISO 100 or ISO 125, will give sharper images with better colour and less noise, and cameras with larger sensors – such as full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras – will give the best results.

Setting an aperture that isn't too small, around f/8, will help you achieve maximum sharpness without compromising on depth of field for scenes with foreground interest. Widen the aperture to f/4 or f/5.6 if your shutter speeds are too long.

8. How do I capture firework shapes?

Your camera’s bulb mode enables you to keep the shutter open for as long as you need to, which means that you can capture the fireworks as they move across the sky and explode, leaving light trails that show their impressive shapes. To use bulb mode, select manual mode or shutter priority, and dial all the way to the end of the options, past 30″. Press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and once again when you want to close it.

It’s a good idea to use a wired or wireless shutter release to start and stop the exposure, such as the Canon BR E1, or the Canon Camera Connect app.

9. How do I get the correct exposure for fireworks?

A dark sky with bright fireworks exploding against it is a fairly atypical scenario in terms of your usual photography subjects, and your camera might set an exposure that is too bright for a night-time fireworks image. If you shoot in Manual mode, or a semi-automatic mode such as Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, you can use exposure compensation to avoid this.

Look for the -/+ button or icon on the screen and set it to around -1 to -2. If you use Manual mode, you can also keep an eye on the exposure indicator scale on your LCD screen or at the bottom of your camera’s viewfinder while choosing a combination of settings that push the indicator to the left of the scale.

10. How can I photograph silhouettes with fireworks?

For creative and unusual firework photographs, capture people’s silhouettes against the action. This is a good one to try earlier in the evening when there is still some light in the sky, as your silhouettes will stand out better. If, however, you’re capturing a particularly busy display that’s bursting with light and colour, this may provide a strong enough backdrop for your silhouettes.

For this type of image, you’ll need to think carefully about your position. A more distant spot and a wide-angle lens will help you to frame many people against the sky, while getting up closer to the subjects and pointing your camera upwards will help you to make the people more dominant in your image.

Make sure your exposure settings render the people as silhouettes; if you expose for the fireworks, this will normally happen with the camera’s suggested settings, although you may need to use negative exposure compensation for the best effect (see tip 9 above). Try not to use too long a shutter speed, though, as your subjects may move around in this time and spoil the effect.

Written by Matt Golowczynski

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