A Guide to Photographing Fireworks

A Guide to Photographing Fireworks


Just in time for tonight’s fireworks shows I have a guide to help you get great shots. Taking great photos of fireworks isn’t very hard and once you have the right settings you’ll be able to capture great shots. Overall, the settings are a means to get the right exposure for your shot and your shutter speed will be a big factor is the final result. Shutters ranging from 1/5th of a second to 60 seconds may look good depending on the desired amount of fireworks you want to capture.

There are two methods that are the most popular for catching great shots of the fireworks. The first method is taking long exposures of 1/2 second to 30 seconds or longer. The second is a bit unconventional using a black card to cover and uncover the lens during a bulb exposure. Lets take a closer look at both methods below.

Method 1: Long Exposures

The first method is the most commonly used and one that most would figure out on their own. Simply taking a long exposure of the fireworks works great. You simply need to find the right exposure settings to get the best exposure and the right amount of fireworks in the shot. I recommend arriving well before the show starts and taking some test exposures prior to the show starting. The photo above and below were both taken at F/11, ISO 100 and 8 second exposures. These settings allowed me to expose the foreground correctly and get the right amount of fireworks in the shot. You could take a shorter exposure of 1 second or a longer exposure like 30 seconds. The length of exposure will change the look of the shot. Here are some tips to help you get your exposure right:

Equipment needed:

  1. Camera (Preferably DSLR) with the ability to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

  2. Tripod - A good sturdy tripod is needed to take longer exposures. It isn’t possible to handheld any shot over 1/25th of a second without something to stabilize the camera

  3. A cable release is recommended to help avoid any camera shake and keep the shot sharp.

Before The Show:

  1. Get there early and find a good vantage point for the show, preferably one with no obstacles blocking the show.

  2. Use the time before the show starts to get your exposure right. Take some test shots at different settings so you can quickly move back and forth during the show.

  3. Make sure that you are setup and ready to shoot before the show starts

Getting Best Exposure:

  1. A good exposure for fireworks will be one that is bright enough to expose most the foreground elements without overexposing lights.

  2. Take exposures before the show and note the settings that give you the best exposures.

  3. Refer to your histogram in live view and after the shot in the preview as well. Your histogram should be more the left because it is dark but should not have much black clipping. Some black clipping is OK and might be natural to your location.

Best Settings:

  1. Make sure you are shooting in Manual Mode to have full control over the camera’s Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.

  2. Your Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed can vary based upon your desired result.

    1. Short Bursts: For short bursts of fireworks use a shorter shutter speed, lower Aperture and higher ISO

    2. Several Bursts: For several Bursts try exposures that are in the 4-10 second range F/8-F/11 and and ISO of 100 should get you this result

    3. Tons of Bursts: Take longer exposures such as 15 seconds to 60 seconds. Stopping down to F/16 will help you be able to get longer exposures

  3. Keep an eye on the brightness of the fireworks. If you are blowing out the fireworks and they lack color then your exposure is too bright. I suggest to stop your camera down to F/8 to F/16 for longer shots to help keep the highlights under control.

  4. The best settings are what give you the right amount of fireworks desired and the still keep the exposure just right.

  5. Experiment with different settings, short and long exposures to see what result you like the best. I found that an exposure of around 8 seconds worked best for me. The picture below was an 8 second exposure, F/11, ISO 100.


Method 2: Bulb Exposure with Black Cover

The second method to taking fireworks shots is a bit unconventional, but can provide some very interesting results. This for this method you need something to cover your lens during a bulb exposure. I recommend a black matte square of about 8-12 inches of construction paper. This is used to cover your lens in between firework explosions. This method does take a bit of practice and if you haven’t done it before you could risk the entire show trying to get this right. Using the following tips to execute this method.

Equipment needed:

  1. Camera (Preferably DSLR) with the ability to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

  2. Tripod - A good sturdy tripod is needed to take longer exposures. It isn’t possible to handheld any shot over 1/25th of a second without something to stabilize the camera

  3. A cable release is recommended to help avoid any camera shake and keep the shot sharp.

  4. A black cover for your camera so that light will not enter the lens when covered. I recommend a black matte (not shinny) piece of construction paper cut into an 8-12 inch square.


  1. Find a length of exposure that you like in Manual Mode. Note the F-Stop, Shutter Length and ISO that are used.

  2. Place your camera in Bulb Mode and use the same Aperture and ISO from the manual mode. You will be using the shutter speed as a time for the black card to be down from the lens.

  3. Cover your lens with the black card and lock your shutter in bulb mode to start the exposure.

  4. When fireworks are about to explode take the card down to expose that group of fireworks. Count how many seconds you have the card down. When the firework is done, cover the lens again and stop the count.

  5. When the next group is about to go off take the card away from the lens again and start the count from previous count.

  6. Once your count has reached the length of exposure that you had in manual mode you’ll unlock the shutter and you are done.

  7. Adjust the exposure or count time as needed or you may need to adjust F-Stop and ISO if you want a shorter or longer exposure time.

I will admit that this method is the most difficult to execute but can also give the best results if you execute it correctly. Be patient and be willing to adjust your exposure time for the best exposure and results. You really don’t need a long exposure for this method as you are going to be getting more fireworks. Too many fireworks and your exposure may be crowded or blown out by explosions. Try something shorter with a few groups of fireworks that you like.


Whichever method you chose to use be sure that you experiment with your shutter speed to get different looks. Try shorter shots like 1/5th of a second or 1/2 a second. Then try longer shots like 4-30 seconds. Adjust your settings to make sure you keep the exposure just right and you don’t blow out the fireworks in the histogram. With any luck you’ll come home with some great captures to share with everyone. Best of luck and hopefully you found this quick tutorial helpful while shooting your local show.


Chris Ewen Crosby

is a landscape photographer and educator from Southern California creating unique and powerful landscape images.


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