What settings should I be using to photograph fireworks? covers some of the basics of taking photographs of fireworks, but what special techniques can I use shooting fireworks? I heard about this one where you use bulb mode and use a black sheet or t-shirt to cover the camera.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What's a "unique" technique ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Berzemus
    Jul 4, 2012 at 13:54

8 Answers 8


The only technique I can recommend with certainty is experimentation! There are no hard and fast rules.

Bulb mode is useful if you want to go past your camera's maximum exposure time, typically 30 seconds. If you don't have any foreground light sources, i.e. you're pointing at the sky, or the foreground is unlit, then you can pretty much expose as long as you like as without worrying about overexposure as the fireworks stop giving off light right after they go off. A longer exposure allows you to capture more bursts in an image. If you want to do long exposures with foreground lights then you might need to use a graduated ND filter upside down.

Covering the camera with a t-shirt or cloth is used to prevent stray light entering the camera through the viewfinder. It's only applicable for SLRs/DSLRs. I find a bit of black electrical tape is more convenient.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How does the long exposure relate to noise? Assuming you set your ISO high, will a 1 minute exposure produce the same amount of noise as a 10 second one or are these parameters unrelated? \$\endgroup\$
    – Julian
    Jul 3, 2012 at 18:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Julian Noise is related to the amount of light available, a long exposure ought to give you more light, and hence a better signal to noise ratio. However camera sensors also pick up infra-red radiation and in low light you can get a build up of noise due to other sources, thus making shorted exposures preferable. For this reason astrophotographers sometimes modify their cameras to add cooling to the sensor. The best approach is multiple short exposures that you blend together in post, and/or shooting a black frame to help eliminate thermal noise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Jul 4, 2012 at 9:29
  1. Use a tripod - Good fireworks photos require long exposures, and the best way to get them is to use a sturdy tripod.

  2. Find a great location early - Once the show gets going, you’re not going to have the time (and if you’re in a crowd, the ability) to move around much.

  3. Turn your flash off - Whether it’s an on-camera flash or an add-on, it’s not nearly powerful enough to reach the fireworks. Even if it was, you wouldn’t want to light them that way. Go flash-less.

  4. ISO 100 - Your digital camera has several user-selectable light-sensitivity settings. The higher your ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to light. Normally this means you want to use a higher ISO in dark settings, but when you’re shooting longer exposures (long shutter speeds) high ISO can introduce a lot of digital noise to your photograph. An ISO setting of 100 is a good bet.

  5. Turn on noise reduction - If your camera has it, this setting will help get rid of any digital noise created by your long exposures, even with a low ISO. Note: some cameras will take several seconds to eliminate noise after a shot is taken, preventing you from taking another photograph immediately.

  6. Use the self-timer to reduce vibration - Even with your camera on a tripod, you cause small vibrations just by clicking the shutter, resulting in a less-than-perfectly sharp capture. Set your self-timer to the shortest duration possible and use it to give the your camera a chance to settle before the shot’s actually taken. Sharper shots, guaranteed.

  7. Use your camera’s fireworks setting - Many recent cameras have a scene mode specifically for fireworks. Try some photos with and without it and see what you prefer.

  8. Focus on infinity - shooting in full manual mode if you have the ability. Set your focus to just less than infinity (or choose a landscape setting if you can’t manually adjust focus) and use an aperture of f/8 to f/16.

  9. Use long shutter speeds: 2/3 seconds or longer - This is the most important camera setting you’ll need to worry about. At any given moment, fireworks are just a bunch of bright points of light. What makes them interesting is how their quick motion across the night sky illuminates a path and creates beautiful streaks and patterns. Your eye sees it, but with a fast shutter speed, your camera doesn't. So to give your camera a chance to record those streaks and patterns, you need to make sure your shutter is open long enough to get them in. That means at minimum a full second, and possibly up to 15 seconds or more. You’ll want to experiment with different durations to see what works best.

source: http://content.photojojo.com/guides/11-tips-for-sparkling-fireworks-photos/


If you are already quite familiar with your camera then I can suggest the following link: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/fireworks.htm

I have found with experience that manually focusing is the best way to ensure that you get the fireworks in focus. If you have the time try focusing manually on the firework display at the begining once it starts. (i.e the first 1-2 explosions)

One thing that I found helpded produce better images was shooting in portrait mode to get the path of the firework as it reaches in to the sky. I have also held open the shutter at the end of the display to gte colour in to the sky (around 15-20 seconds longer depending on how dark it is).


Bulb mode is recommended in situations in which you don't know the exact time of the firework's existence..

Also the use of a black sheet or T-shirt is to get the effect of the ND filter(to accomplish long shutters)

Some Common tips for Firework photography are as follows:

  1. Set Slow shutter speed(slow enough to get the whole fireworks effect)
  2. Set small aperture(high f stop)(small enough to compensate the long shutter)
  3. Select vivid colour tone(to make the colours of fireworks more vibrant)
  4. If possible use a ND filter to get long shutter
  5. A tripod is must(as the shutter is open long to capture without shakes)
  6. Anticipate the expected firework(to manually focus the distance and the fix the frame to cover the whole effect)

Unique Techniques:

  • Try zooming in/out during exposure.
  • Try rotating the camera during exposure.

Shooting fireworks against a black sky is a lot like using flash in a dark room. The length of time the shutter is open does not affect how bright the image is. The amount of power put out by the flash over a much shorter period of time does that.

With fireworks, the bright parts of the picture are constantly moving. Leaving the shutter open longer doesn't usually make the image that much brighter, it just shows the glowing fireworks along a longer portion of their travel. Now obviously, if you left the shutter open for several minutes the background light and the number of fireworks crossing the same spot of your sensor over and over would eventually overexpose your image.

I normally shoot fireworks using a wired remote cable release and the camera set to 'Bulb' mode. The shutter opens when either the camera's shutter button or the button on the remote is pressed and closes when the button you used is released. I always use a tripod to shoot fireworks (unless I didn't know I was going to be shooting fireworks when i left my car and walked a mile to the airshow several hours earlier). This allows exposure times in the range of about one to five seconds.

You pick a spot of sky to point at, focus manually at infinity (or just a tad shy of it), and you wait until the show starts to see if you're pointed in the right direction. Adjust your aim as needed. Don't forget to refocus if you zoom in or out. I find manual focus works best for me. Once I've got the camera pointed in the right direction and focused where I want it, I don't even bother with the viewfinder (or LV). I just watch the show with my own eyes and use the wired remote to open and close the shutter, occasionally glancing at the image previews on the LCD after a shot to be sure exposure, focus, etc. is still where I want it to be.

When using 'Bulb' mode you can anticipate a shell before it bursts (by watching it climb - the trail of the climb usually goes dark a half second or so before the shell breaks) and you can already have the shutter open when it "breaks." You can then hold down the button until the glowing powder has spread out or fallen.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS @24mm, ISO 100, f/10, 1 second (Bulb - EXIF only reports in whole seconds, so it could have been anything from just shy of 2 seconds to shorter than 1 second).

Some folks prefer to include the shell's climb in the image. I prefer to leave it out and open the shutter just as the shell breaks or just after it breaks.

Sometimes, if there are multiple burts going off at once, like in the "big finish" of a professional display, you'll go ahead and close the shutter before every burst spreads completely out to prevent areas with multiple breaks going off very quickly from washing out those parts of the frame.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 7D + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 70mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1 second (Bulb)

If you are shooting wider to catch the surroundings as well as the bursts, you have to pay more attention to length of exposure combined with aperture and ISO. Keep in mind that everything else is a constant brightness, while the fireworks is very bright but constantly moving so that it only lights up a particular part in the frame for a short instant as it takes several seconds to move across parts of the frame.

I'd like to have been able to hold the shutter open a bit longer for this one to catch more of the foreground, but I did not have a tripod at the time. I wasn't even planning on shooting fireworks at the end of an airshow I'd been shooting all day. While walking back to my car a long distance from the main crowd area, I saw the reflections of the fireworks on the antique planes parked on the tarmac. I feverishly dug my cameras back out of my backpack, swapped lenses, moved a QC2 plate from the 7D to the 5D Mark II, mounted the camera on my monopod (tripod was in the car 3/4 mile away) and started shooting about 3 minutes before the end of the display. That limited my shutter time to about 1/5 second with a non-stabilized lens at 35mm on a monopod. The higher ISO definitely had an impact on washing out the colors and blew out the center of the shell breaks. ISO 1600 is 4 stops from ISO 100, which reduces the full well capacity of the sensor by a factor of 16 and reduces the dynamic range. But I got the shot I wanted.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + EF 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 34mm, ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/5 second.

After trying it a few times, you'll find getting the wide, generic full burst shots will become old hat. For something different, try shooting tighter and seeing what kinds of abstract shapes and colors you get. You're basically shooting "blind", even if using Live View, because you won't be able to see the entire image captured over several seconds until after you've closed the shutter and the camera shows you a preview image.

enter image description here
EOS 7D + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II at 70mm, ISO 100, f/8, 3 seconds (Bulb).

Catching the very end of one burst and the very beginning of another can be fun. I called this one 'Hyperdrive Tractor Beam.'

enter image description here
EOS 7D + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II at 70mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1 second (Bulb).

Pulling focus during a burst takes a lot of practice, but the results can be unique. I generally focus at a very close distance and pull focus to infinity as the the shell breaks. Live View can be helpful here, and a tripod is an absolute necessity. Even with the tripod, the camera movement caused by zooming the lens is evidenced by the 'squiggles' as the focus was moved.

enter image description here
EOS 5D Mark II + EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 80mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1 second (Bulb). I used the wider aperture to get more blur when defocused.

enter image description here
EOS 5D Mark II + EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 80mm, ISO 100, f/4, 2 seconds (Bulb). I used the wider aperture to get more blur when defocused.

Stopping down a little for the big finale allows you to leave the shutter open a bit longer and fill the frame with various types of shells as the break.

enter image description here
EOS 7D + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II at 70mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1 second (Bulb). Exposure reduced 2/3 stop in post.


Being after the 4th I realize this answer might be coming little late, but after finishing my first time photographing fireworks I thought putting an answer in here would help.

Tripod & Support

Good support means clear images. Granted I was standing on a beach, so keeping the amount of movement around the tripod while the camera was exposing to a minimum was important as well. I use a TVC-33 and BH-55, both from the excellent folks at Really Right Stuff.


I used a wide angle lens (24mm) manually focused to infinity with a small aperture (f/11 on most, but changed it up in for a few). I had a remote that I dialed in a set exposure time into and then just anticipated shell bursts in the sky.


I liked the idea of getting a bunch of fireworks all in one shot, why not go for a 10+ second exposure? In short it gave too much “stuff” in the picture. You get smoke showing up from previous fireworks, overexposed portions because some other flash gun style fireworks are going off during the exposure, and generally it didn't feel as clean as I wanted it to be. I ended up using a lower (1-3 second) exposure time and then doing some adjustments in Lightroom to push the background even darker and expand some of the tones in the fireworks.

Unique Techniques

Just play with it. Assuming you have more then 15 seconds to take pictures there is plenty of time to play with adding other variables like an ND filter for even longer bulb exposures. One thing I didn't try that I wanted to was using a longer focal length lens and trying to put the focus directly on the center of the shell. Unfortunately that was more trial and error then I wanted to do my first time shooting.

An image I shot:

Dancing Streams by Joshua Kehn, on Flickr


General rules for eliminating vibrations apply here: get a remote trigger for your shutter, use a sturdy tripod, and (if you're really paranoid) shoot in mirror up mode to minimize mirror slap/shutter shake. Self timer can be used but is difficult to time correctly. I've used a wireless remote trigger with bulb exposures and it works great - on mine you hold it down for about 5 sec to start the bulb, and press it again to stop.

If you want a shot that mixes fireworks and stuff on the ground, you may find it easier to shoot them separately and merge them. One common trick is to shoot fireworks over water to get reflections. I also wouldn't rule out creative merging of multiple fireworks shots into a single composition.


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