Photographing Fireworks

Fireworks over the harbor in Chicago.

Fireworks over the harbor in Chicago. iStock hide caption

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After suffering through traffic, heat and hordes of tourists, the pressure's on to capture the thrill of fireworks on film without the streaks and the blur. Easier said than done.

Photographer Tom Calderwod talks about taking better fireworks photos. The amateur photographer also serves on the board of Western Pyrotechnics Association.

Night Vision: Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

Fireworks burst i i

Get a tripod and a good camera you can focus manually -- and stay upwind to avoid smoke. istock hide caption

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Fireworks burst

Get a tripod and a good camera you can focus manually -- and stay upwind to avoid smoke.


Photographing fireworks takes preparation and more than a little luck. Start too early and you get a lot of streaking and not enough burst. Start too late and you get additional bursts that ruin your shot. Not to worry. Read on for a few tricks to capture impressive Fourth of July shots:

• Use a camera that lets you set the exposure, such as an SLR model with manual controls (instead of a point-and-shoot).

• Use a slow-speed film (or a slow setting if using a digital camera), such as ISO 100.

• Set the aperture to f8 or f11. (Feel free to experiment, but this is a good starting point.)

• Focus on the first fireworks that launch, then leave the focus set there. You won't be able to focus quickly enough while fireworks are launching. The simplest thing is just to switch to manual focus, and set the focus to infinity (or set the program mode to landscape mode — the icon is usually a mountain range).

• Turn off your flash.

• Use a tripod (ideal) or brace yourself against a steady object (less than ideal. You can't hand hold an exposure that lasts for seconds without blurring the shot).

• Set the shutter speed to B (Bulb).

• If you're using a digital camera, set the quality to the camera's highest setting.

• Use a cable release to depress the shutter (and avoid camera shake). If you don't have a cable, try the camera's timer — but a timer obviously provides less flexibility.

• Use a long exposure — try from just less than 1 second to 15 seconds.

• Shoot often. Try opening the shutter when you hear the mortar launch, and shoot some just before the burst begins. To capture multiple bursts, use a longer exposure (try waiting until the sky is dark to end the exposure).

• Shoot near an identifiable object to give your shot context.

• Save some film (or memory if you're using a digital camera) to capture the finale.

Sources: Smithsonian Institution; Kodak,

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