How to Catch Fireworks in Your Hands

Fireworks on a Windy night in July, 2011. Our 16 month-old was trying to catch the fireworks in his hands at one of last year’s Independence Day fireworks shows. I was catching them in my camera and was lost in my process. Then, a voice interrupted me. The woman, seated to my left, asked if I was taking video or still-photos.

I replied, “Stills.”

That started a conversation about how to photograph fireworks.  Since it is almost Independence Day here in the USA, I thought you might want to try your hand at it this year.

You’ll need a camera on which you can set the aperture (f-stop) and shutter speed. You’ll also need a tripod. A remote cable for your camera would be nice, but it’s not necessary.
1. Set your camera’s shutter speed in the range of 2 to 3 seconds.

  • You may adjust the shutter speed up to capture more explosions, but you’ll also capture more spent shells drifting off. You may need to adjust the shutter speed down to 1.5 seconds if there’s a wind.

2. Set your camera’s aperture in the range of 14 to 16.

  • This will give you a nice depth of field to capture large streaming shots.

3. Focus your camera to infinity (or nearly so).

  • Again, you can adjust focus if you like. Just experiment on a few small shells.Purple Mountains' Majesties

4. Mount your camera on a properly set-up tripod.

In my world, “properly set-up” means:

  • The tripod is on a firm base (from which in will not fall).
  • It is LEVEL. Yes, use the bubble level on your tripod. Trust me.
  • The head/camera is pointed so as to frame the bit of sky you’ll want to capture.

5. IF your camera allows for “mirror lock-up,’ use it.

  • Mirror lock-up will reduce vibrations in your photos. You can also use your camera’s timer, but the mirror swinging up (on and SLR or DSLR) can still cause bounces in your image.

6. Shoot, but verify!

  • Be sure to preview your photos throughout the show so that you can adjust your process.

7. Enjoy the memories of your evening.


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