How to take fireworks photos you want to show off

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When you’re capturing photos of fireworks, it’s both hard and easy and it all depends on a little technique. Right up front I will say that the fireworks setting on certain point and shoot cameras won’t work. If you’ve tried it, you probably seen bursts of blurry color and that’s it. On those settings the camera leaves the shutter open longer than people can hold a camera still. However it’s not long enough to capture anything close to a signature star burst. What that setting does is give the camera manufacturer a reason to add an extra “mode” to their sales pitch. They know from the beginning it doesn’t work.

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So what do you do? Get your hands on a tripod and, if possible, get a camera that gives you some manual control. That’s because the secret to fireworks photos is long exposure. Long as in 8 to 10 seconds.

First thing is you have to anticipate where the fireworks will appear. Here in Louisville, that’s easy because we have a designated area to watch Thunder Over Louisville and it’s where everyone is looking. It would be the same for Fourth of July, but budget cuts to the Waterfront Development Corporation axed the fireworks for Independence Day this year. The photos here are from Thunder.

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So, wherever you are, get a general idea of where they’ll go off. Put the camera on the tripod. Next, you have to focus manually. For these photos, I focused on the skyline and set the aperture to f/8.

Now the tricky part. If you’re using a DSLR, enable the mirror lockup feature. This is to minimize camera shake. That’s the number one destroyer of otherwise good “bombs bursting in mid-air” photos. Mirrorless cameras and point and shoots don’t have a mirror, so you won’t need to do that that. Also, if possible, use a cable release for the same reason. If you don’t have a cable release handy, Use the automatic timer. A lot of cameras have a short 2 second delay where others have a 10 second delay. Opt for the shorter one. The idea is to get your fingers off the camera body.

Set your shutter speed to 2 or 3 seconds. Fireworks shows usually go continuously once they start so a couple of seconds is long enough to capture bursts. This next step isn’t necessary, but it gives my fireworks photos a different look. I set exposure for 8 seconds and I use a hat to cover the lens every two seconds during the exposure. It gives me a chance to catch big multiple bursts. Seems more dramatic and it’s strictly an artistic choice.

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Good luck and Happy Independence Day.

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