Shooting tips > Photographing a Fireworks Display

Level: Beginner

LESSON 15Photographing a Fireworks Display

Focal length: 28 mm (35 mm equivalent), f-stop: 14, Shutter speed: 23 seconds.

Summer is the season for fireworks. With a camera, you can capture captivating images of them lighting up the night sky for brilliant, fleeting moments. Are you ready to try photographing at least a few this summer?

Preparing to Capture Images of Fireworks

To shoot beautiful images of fireworks bursting above, you will need to secure the camera on a tripod, because the shutter has to remain open for long periods of time. You will also want to have a remote commander* to open the shutter at just the right moment. Not only is it important to have the right equipment when shooting fireworks, you also have to choose the right shooting location. Try to situate yourself in the main viewing area to hear announcements about and be closer to the action that you want to shoot, as well as enjoy the atmosphere of the fireworks display. When shooting from this area, be careful not to obstruct views of people around you. If your tripod is too tall, keep it low without extending the legs to prevent blocking views of people behind you and prevent blurring due to vibration and wind. Be sure to check in advance that use of tripods is allowed there.

  • * The type of remote commander that can be used varies according to the camera model being used. See here.

On the day of the show, visit the venue and set up your equipment while it is still light out. It is also important to check that there are no street lights or electrical lines that may obstruct your view when shooting.
The lens to use can vary, depending on the distance to the launch area and the type of image you want to shoot, but we recommend using the standard zoom lens in your lens kit. With this lens, you can take more expansive wide-angle shots with a short focal length (1) and more detailed telephoto shots with a long focal length (2).

(1) Focal length: 20 mm. (2) Focal length: 70mm.

Image taken from a distance with telephoto setting.

Configuring the Camera Settings

After the equipment is set up, configure the camera settings.

Set the capture mode on the camera to M-mode, and set the sensitivity, aperture, and shutter speed.

1.Sensitivity

Fireworks are very bright, so shoot with the sensitivity fixed at ISO 100. You can adjust for the brightness of fireworks with the aperture.

2.Aperture (f-stop)

Although the appropriate f-stop varies according to the type of fireworks, you can shoot many types of fireworks with appropriate exposure using an f-stop of f13. If you feel that the fireworks trail that you captured is either too dark or too bright, you can use an f-stop between f10 and f18 as the standard.
Although it is best to fine-tune the f-stop according to the type of fireworks, we recommend fixing the f-stop and focusing on the shutter speed until you get the hang of shooting.

3.Shutter speed

The key to capturing impressive images of fireworks is knowing how long to keep the shutter open. For the shutter speed, select [BULB] so you can manually adjust how long the shutter is open.
Once you hear the fireworks launch, open the shutter and keep it open until the exploded fireworks have disappeared. You will be able to capture a beautiful image of a trail of fireworks, as shown in (1). If the shutter speed is too fast, the fireworks will appear as dots, as shown in (2).
Also, because the camera must be configured to release the shutter with the remote commander, be sure to check in advance the setting method, which varies according to the camera model. See the User Manual or Handbook for details.
You can still use [BULB] to release the shutter without the use of a remote commander, but be careful, because the vibration from pressing the shutter release button can cause camera shake and blur the image.
In any case, be sure to disable the Long Exposure NR and SteadyShot functions.

(1) Shutter speed: 4 seconds. (2) Shutter speed: 1/100 second.

While keeping the shutter open throughout the duration of a continuous series of firework bursts can create a gorgeous image, the light of various fireworks can overlap at same positions, creating an image containing white, overexposed areas.

Multiple firework bursts overlapped.

Now You're Ready to Shoot

Now that your equipment is ready and the camera settings are configured, you are ready to shoot.
First, adjust the camera's focus on the fireworks. Use manual focus (MF) to adjust the focus on the actual fireworks. Because it is difficult to adjust the focus using the very first fireworks burst, use the first several appearances of fireworks to adjust the focus, and then ready yourself for the middle of the show and the finale. For more detailed focusing, it is useful to use the MF Assist and Focus Magnifier functions.
If you are not used to using MF, you can allow autofocus (AF) to focus on the fireworks, and then quickly switch back to MF. In either case, you can magnify the captured images on the playback screen to check whether the subject is in focus.
Once you have the fireworks in focus, you can continue shooting with the same focus position, which may change if you change the composition or zoom in or out. In such cases, we recommend checking the focus of the captured images.

Magnify part of the fireworks on the playback screen.

White balance is important for photographing images of fireworks containing the same bright colors that you see. While you can capture beautiful colors just with [AWB] (auto white balance), for more realistic colors, try selecting [Incandescent] to capture fireworks with intermediate colors, such as cyan, pink, and lemon yellow, and use [Daylight] to capture fireworks with a lot of orange in them.
For more colorful images, use Creative Style and adjust the saturation to a higher value to create more vivid photos.

[AWB] white balance.

[Incandescent] white balance.

Higher saturation.

If images appear whitish or with dull colors despite adjustment of white balance and saturation, the image may be overexposed. If this happens, reduce the aperture a bit and shoot again.

If you're comfortable with photography, try adjusting the composition to suit the fireworks.
Although the ideal composition depends on the lens being used, the shooting location, and the image you're trying to create, to capture single bursts of fireworks, use a vertical composition, and to capture wide bursts of fireworks, such as those that typically occur during the grand finale, use a horizontal composition to fill the image with fireworks. You can also photograph with a horizontal position when capturing single bursts together with the background scenery.

Vertical shot.

Horizontal shot of wide bursts of fireworks.

Using a Remote Commander

Shooting fireworks using [BULB] mode requires the use of a remote commander. By using a remote commander in [BULB] mode, you can customize the fireworks trail and the number of bursts in one image. Since you can release the shutter whenever you like without looking at the camera, you are freed up from having to watch the camera, so you can enjoy the fireworks display.
Also, using the remote commander reduces blurry images caused by camera shake when the shutter is released and enables long exposures of more than 30 seconds, which is useful when using a tripod for nighttime and night sky photography.

Shutter speed: 37 seconds.

RM-VPR1

Remote commander with multiple terminals. Enables remote operation of zoom and shutter lock (bulb), and comes with a cable for capturing still images and movies.