017_CarlsbadFireworksPecosFireworks are a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds that excites and ignites a sense of childlike wonder in most of us.

They are an exhibition of pure light and color, moving in unison with a symphony of booming, whistling and crackling in the night sky.

The word photography literally means “drawing with light”, which is exactly what fireworks do as we watch.

So how can we, as photographers, resist capturing this spectacle of light raining down from the heavens right in front of our eyes, and our cameras?

The answer is, we can’t … or at least, we mustn’t.

Our visual experience of fireworks is a movement of light. Every burst is a naturally occurring expanded moment of light trails ready for the taking.

What could be more fulfilling than capturing this extravaganza as it captures us?

HOW TO : Photographing Fireworks

The life of a firework begins with a shot into the sky, followed by an explosion and burst of light, then ends with a shower of light, fading as it falls to earth.

Photographing fireworks is one part anticipation, one part recognition and a lot of luck. You must be prepared to recognize what you have not yet seen, then capture the light trails as they streak across the sky.

Each expanded moment is defined by two decisive moments, opening and closing your shutter “at the right time.”

The right exposure is pretty straight forward:

  • aperture determines the thickness and intensity of the light trails
  • the length of the exposure determines the length of the light trails
  • use the suggested aperture described in aperture settings
  • set Auto Exposure (AE) off
  • turn off Noise Reduction to avoid delays between exposures

Timing is everything:

  • initial shots and explosions can over expose and cause hot spots
  • light bursts and showers offer the best image opportunities
  • open and close your shutter manually as you see fit

Framing is not an exact science:

  • point your camera toward the center of the action
  • zoom out a little to capture full bursts, crop your images later

Focusing takes a little work:

  • set Auto Focus (AF) off
  • focus manually on the first few bursts
  • or focus on objects as far away as the fireworks

Aesthetic choices:

  • multiple bursts are more dramatic than single ones
  • include ground level or foreground elements to add context or a sense of place
  • shapes vary, look for ones that please you the most
  • watch for a diversity of color

IMAGE : Fireworks & Pecos River, Carlsbad, NM

As long as I can remember, my hometown has hosted an extraordinary fireworks show every fourth of July over the Pecos River.

I shot an entire exhibition at ISO 400 with my aperture set to f8, one stop down from the suggested setting. I opened and closed the shutter manually, varying the exposures as I witnessed the bursts, pretty much between 1 and 10 seconds each.

This color image is a 6 second exposure shot with a digital camera. It is one of over 100 images shot at the event.

EXERCISE : Fireworks

What more can I say? Go out and photograph fireworks. Every chance you get!

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fireworks

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Light Trails”


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4 thoughts on “Fireworks

    • I am covering more details on each topic on my blog than I did in my class at UNM. I hope the info here was helpful and you got some great shots.

  1. Thank you ! fireworks are special to me because I associate them with my birthday. As a little girl, my Grandpa would take me to the stadium in Champaign, Illinois and watch the fireworks…and I thought it was all for me!

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