How to Photograph Fireworks

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved the 4th of July fireworks. We always watched them at the lake outside of our small town where they were set off from the island. The location we always watched from was not too far from the tiny island – close enough that the boom would shake your soul and the ashes would sometimes land all around you. You could hear them sizzle in the water. The reflection of the bursts in the water was mesmerizing.

Firewoks photographed on Kodak Gold
All fireworks images in this post were developed and scanned by PhotoVision

We would sit there and ooh and ah pointing out our favorites. My dad and I both love the ones we’ve nicknamed (oh so creatively – note the sarcasm): “willow tree” or “waterfall,” or “sizzlers,” and the “screaming memies.”

Every year I would try, to no avail, to take the perfect fireworks photo. One that would capture the very essence of the beauty I saw before me – and every year I would wait days for the film to come back from the lab only to be disappointed at the underexposed, blurry or black prints that in no way matched my memories. Now, you have to remember, I was first trying to capture these on my little Kodak 110 camera and much later on a point and shoot digital (at least in the days of point & shoot digital I didn’t have to wait days to be disappointed, I knew right away what I got was crap).

Fast forward to about 10 years ago when decided to take my lifelong hobby of photography and make it my job. I learned all about aperture & shutter speed and once the 4th of July rolled around, I pulled out my trusty tripod, guessed at my settings and – well, the results were meh, but better than when I was using that little Kodak 110!

Thankfully, in my neck of the woods, the 4th of July is celebrated with fireworks on multiple days throughout the holiday weekend so I loaded up the family and my camera and tried again. This time I was finally seeing the beauty before me showing up on the tiny screen on the back of my camera! Woohoo! I was hooked.

A few years ago when I went back to my first love, film photography, I challenged myself to photograph fireworks on film. I scoured the internet for a “how-to” tutorial finding a couple of extremely technical (aka overwhelming) blog posts ultimately deciding to “wing it.” Using what I had learned from photographing fireworks with my DSLR, I basically shot and prayed. Man, that wait for the scans to come back from my lab took me right back to my childhood. The big difference – this time the results had me jumping for joy!

My film of choice is Kodak Colorplus 200 which is a forgiving consumer film with punchy color. I’m also partial to Kodak Ultramax 400. Other films I’ve tried, with mixed results include Lomo 100, Provia 100, and Portra 400, but you just can’t beat the vibrant colors you get with Kodak consumer films. This year I may try some Agfa Vista 200 that’s begging to be used before it expires anymore – but you can bet your booty I’ll be shooting a roll or 2 of Kodak also!

the tips

I want to pass on what I have learned over the years to you! No crazy technical terms, no formulas or calculations to make. Just plain Jane easy to understand terms.

I’ve compiled a FREE step-by-step PDF that you can download easily to your phone to refer to this 4th of July for some awe-inspiring fireworks photos of your own. Here are the basics to get you started.

the basics

  1. Get a good, sturdy tripod.
  2. The LENS you use is subjective to your location and desired outcome. Have a couple focal lengths on hand ranging from 24mm to 200mm.
  3. FOR FILM SHOOTERS – choose a film with an ISO of 200 or 400. 
  4. FOR DIGITAL SHOOTERS – Set your camera’s ISO to somewhere between 100 – 400
  5. FOCUSING – nailing focus can take a little practice.  I use single-point autofocus.
  6. APERTURE – DIGITAL or FILM – use a high aperture above f10 and exposure times from 5-15 seconds.
(Cameras - my I use a Canon 1V for film, and a Canon R5 for digital photography.)

these tips plus much much more can be found in the free pdf

So there you have it, some quick easy to follow tips and tricks for photographing fireworks – but don’t forget to take time to sit back and savor the moment.

Have a question? Post it below in the comments.

let’s connect

After being a hobbyist photographer for several years, I finally turned my passion for capturing life’s moments into a career I have grown to love more and more, over the past 9 years.

My goal is to create timeless photos for couples and families capturing all the joyful moments and the tiniest of details. When you look at your photos you should get a nostalgic romantic feeling and fall in love all over again with your loved ones.

Educating my fellow photographers on how to use off-camera flash to create a natural light look in a simple and easy-to-understand way makes my heart happy.

When I’m not behind the camera, I can be found spending time with my kiddos, and my hubby of 20+ years Darin. We live in the small town of Fisher located in central Illinois just minutes from Champaign Urbana where our school mascot is The Bunnies – seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!

June 17, 2022

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