Spectacular flares, exhilarating explosions and dazzling displays of pyrotechnics — few can resist watching colorful fireworks light up the night sky as part of the grand finale of a holiday celebration. Photographers and revelers alike naturally reach for their cameras to capture the mix of bright sparks and light trails.
Learning how to photograph fireworks is a fun opportunity to grow as a creative photographer. Working with a Canon EOS Rebel simplifies the process of taking pictures of fireworks, allowing you to make discoveries and capture memories while still staying in the moment.
Find the Perfect Vantage Point
Large firework displays can be viewed far beyond the launch zone, giving photographers plenty of options for fantastic vantage points. It’s always a clever idea to scout the location around the fireworks launch zone in advance to identify the best angles to photograph the show and determine which lenses you’ll need. For vantage points closer to the launch zone, opt for a standard zoom lens like the EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM or EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. Seek out higher ground for full, unobstructed views, preferably upwind from potential smoke created by the pyrotechnics. Depending on your surroundings, consider escaping the crowds to stake out a spot at a nearby rooftop patio or accessible balcony and switch to the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM telephoto zoom lens.
Set the Scene
Fireworks photography offers rare opportunities to play with unusual framing and compositions. Look for ways to incorporate the cityscape or landmarks into your firework compositions. Using the scenery around the fireworks zone provides context and adds dimension to your photos. Silhouettes of fellow revelers will provide a sense of perspective and depth to the scene.
Camera Settings for Fireworks
To capture the light trails from the fireworks as clearly as possible, you’ll want to avoid extensive use of your camera’s autofocus (AF) system. Set the lens’ focus switch to AF to activate autofocus and acquire the focus during the first firework bursts, then set the switch to MF (Manual focus) to maintain the camera’s focal distance. For the best results when attempting to photograph as many rocket bursts as possible, keep your camera position stationary during the show
Use Slow Shutter Speeds
Whether photographing the bright lights of a big city or a dark sky illuminated by dazzling fireworks, the key to high-quality nighttime photography is proper exposure. Long exposure times let enough ambient light in while capturing the duration of individual
firework explosions. Each burst can vary in size and duration, which can range from two to ten seconds, so a little guesswork is required in choosing the right shutter speed to best capture the light trails. If you have a Canon lens with Image
Stabilization (IS), IS will work effectively with shutter speeds faster than 1 full second (such as ½ second, ¼ second, and so on).
Shooting in the Bulb mode on the EOS Rebel allows for exposure lengths longer than 30 seconds, keeping the camera’s sensor exposed as long as the shutter button or remote shutter release is pressed. Before the show begins, set the mode dial to M (Manual) and then turn the main dial to the left to set the shutter speed to Bulb mode. Working in Bulb mode is particularly useful in capturing the phenomenal bursts of the grand finale. The key to using Bulb mode is to keep the camera as stable as possible to help reduce blur. Use a tripod or a bench, railing, or any other suitable surface to steady your camera.
Keep in mind that bursts early in the show may be the clearest, so take advantage of getting those shots. Depending on location and the size of the event, firework displays can go on for five minutes up to half an hour.
Capture the Excitement
Great fireworks photography captures the energy and excitement of displays. Fireworks often evoke emotional responses from people, especially small children. After snapping several shots of the sky, enhance your photo essay with crowd reactions. Switch to the Night Portrait setting to catch the fireworks casting its glow on a child’s face as they watch with awe and delight. You might discover other moments, such as a couple getting engaged or tender embrace between friends. The built-in flash will fire automatically in the Night Portrait setting, so use it only for close-up reaction shots. Be sure to switch back to Bulb mode when you resume taking straight fireworks shots.
Accept the Unexpected
Firework displays are dynamic and exciting, but the shows can also be unpredictable and subject to uncontrollable factors. The longer the show, the more smoke may gather in the air on nights with light wind conditions. Without a steady breeze, smoke and
haze can collect around the fireworks zone, which can compromise image quality.
It’s likely that environmental factors may ruin an otherwise perfect shot. You might get caught up in watching the show that you discover a missed photo op. But it’s possible you’ll walk away with plenty of spectacular shots, even if by sheer luck. Check your photos periodically during the show and make adjustments as you go along.
Photographing fireworks is challenging, but it provides a great opportunity to learn how to work with low light and movement on the fly. Attend seasonal, nightly or weekly firework displays to experiment with settings and timing and to hone your pyrotechnic photography techniques. With practice, you’ll find the balance between documenting and experiencing the display — capturing the moment and being in the moment.