With Guy Fawkes night fast approaching, it’s time to grab your winter coat and prepare yourself for what's to come this winter. Photographing fireworks can be challenging but with a bit of planning, perseverance and guidance it can be done successfully. Here are a few pointers to help you photograph fireworks and get some explosive results.
Remember to plan ahead!
Write down some ideas beforehand to get an idea of what you want to achieve. If you want to capture more of the background, arrive early to work out where the fireworks will take off and where to set up. Try to find a spot where you have enough space to shoot comfortably without having to worry about people tripping over your gear.
Before you leave the house, however, make sure you have everything you might need in case you end up staying out later than you planned. There's nothing worse than getting to the grand finale and seeing the dreaded "Memory Card Full" notification appear on your camera's display, so make sure you pack a spare memory card and battery.
Choosing a lens
If you want to capture the full explosion of fireworks and parts of the scene surrounding them, a wideangle (10-20mm) or standard kit lens (18-55mm) will suffice. If you're zooming in and concentrating more on the detail of the explosion, prime lenses with a focal length of 35mm, 50mm, or even 85mm are good to experiment with too. Browse our full range of lenses here.
Strong set of legs
Using a sturdy tripod allows you to keep the shutter open for long periods of time and helps keep the camera still, thus avoiding camera shake. Using a long exposure will result in your fireworks developing smooth, streaky effects in the image. Browse our full range of tripods here.
Remote or self-timer function
If you don't own a tripod then don't worry - you can still get some decent results shooting handheld, although you may have to up the sensitivity (ISO 800 and upwards) which will provide you with a faster shutter speed to work with. Opening up our aperture to f/4 or f/2.8 will also help here. Having the freedom to compose your shots more quickly allows you to be more creative and experiment with moving the camera around to create some wacky light painting results.
Shoot in manual mode
I would recommend shooting in either manual (M), Shutter-priority (S) or Aperture-priority (A) modes, as this will give you more control over your exposure parameters. I would also advise focusing manually, by flicking the switch on your lens or body to the 'M' position; autofocus will struggle to lock on due to the lack of available light and will force you to spend more time waiting for the lens to focus (and so less time taking pictures). For far-away displays, focusing to infinity is usually appropriate.
There's not much point in using your flash due to the distance of the fireworks. If anything, it'll only illuminate subjects close to you that you probably don't want highlighted in your shot.
ISO controls the sensitivity of the sensor or film and usually ranges from 100 to 6400 - although some of the latest DSLRs can reach settings equivalent to ISO 204,800! The higher the number the more sensitive the sensor is to light, but you should use the lowest ISO setting possible (usually ISO 100) to avoid grain and to maximise image quality. Obviously, if you need a faster shutter speed and you can't open up your aperture any further, you may need to increase this.
The aperture refers to the lens opening formed by the iris diaphragm. The aperture controls the amount of light that enters your lens and is measured in f-stops or f-numbers (the smaller the f/number (f/1.8) the wider the aperture). If you're using a tripod and want to experiment with long exposures, I would recommend shooting between f/7.1-f/16. If you don’t have a tripod you may find it best to use a larger aperture, such as f/4-5.6, to allow the use of faster shutter speeds while avoiding blur.
Note: The aperture also plays a large part in determining how much of the overall scene will be in focus; this is known as the depth of field. A small aperture (f/22) will increase the depth of field (more of the overall scene will be in focus), so if you're using a wideangle lens and aim to capture the foreground too, bear this in mind.
If you’re looking to capture a smooth, streaky effects, you'll need to use a fairly long exposure (anything between 1-15 seconds). If you own a remote release and want to capture multiple explosions then try experimenting in “Bulb” mode. Don't be fooled by the dark night sky; fireworks are very bright and if you're capturing a cluster of fireworks together it won’t take long before the shot becomes overexposed.
If you're planning to capture multiple explosions in one photo then try placing a dark glove or black piece of card in front of the lens after each explosion. This will help to avoid any additional light source (such as street lamps) creeping into the frame and potentially overexposing your shot.
This is probably one of the hardest things to do as you can't always predict where the firework is going to explode, especially if it's windy. Be prepared to change camera orientation quickly, as, depending on how far away you are from the display, you may find the explosions are much higher or wider than anticipated.
5 final tips
1. Camera operation
Learn where your camera settings are. It seems like an obvious tip but you’ll be surprised how confusing it can be when shooing in the dark. Bring a head torch if you’re a little rusty.
2. Check as you go
Remember to check your results as you go to make sure you're not overexposing and that your fireworks sit nicely in the frame.
3. Experiment with different angles
As well as zooming into the explosion for an abstract effect try looking at the wider picture and involve more of the scene around you - it’s always nice when an image tells a story. If you’re choosing to shoot from a distance be wary of light pollution and other light sources that may enter your shot and cause overexposure. Remember to keep your horizons straight too!
4. Embrace reflections
Reflections can give dramatic results. If the fireworks display is set to go off near a river, the seaside or even scattered puddles in the street, try including this in the frame and using it to your advantage.
5. Be patient, have fun and wear plenty of layers
Remember to have fun with it and don’t worry if you don’t get the best results first time. Photographing fireworks is all about trial and error, and every situation is different, so play around with your settings and make a note of what worked and what didn't so you remember for next time.