How to Photograph Fireworks Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Fireworks don’t explode just on the 4th of July, and if you plan things right, you can get spectacular pictures with your digital SLR. Capturing the stirring images of fireworks cascading in all their colorful stages can produce photographs well worth framing.


1Stake your claim to a good vantage point.

You’ll need to arrive early to scout for a good location and set yourself up there. If you can get a famous landmark in the picture, so much the better.


2Mount your camera on a tripod and enable your camera settings.

Use an aperture with an f/stop of f/11 to give you the huge depth of field you need. Use Single Shot Drive and Focus modes and the Manual shooting mode. You want to capture a couple of fireworks bursts, so your shutter speed should be set to 4 or 6 seconds. Use the lowest ISO setting you have. The focal length you choose depends on how close you can get to the display. If the fireworks are being shot from a barge and you’re photographing from the beach, a wide-angle focal length is perfect. If you’re farther away, you can zoom in.


3Set the lens to manual focus and the lens focus to Infinity, and attach a hood.

You have to do the focusing because your camera won’t be able to. The Infinity setting paired with the small aperture gives the large depth of field necessary. The lens hood prevents any ambient sidelight from washing out parts of the image.

4When the fireworks start, compose your image, and zoom in.

The start of the show lets you know where to point the camera and which focal length to use. As the event progresses, you can experiment with different focal lengths. Zoom in, and you may get lucky and capture one burst followed by another device ascending.

5Set the auto-timer for its shortest duration, then press the shutter button fully to take the picture.

The auto-timer counts down before opening the shutter to give the camera a chance to stabilize after you press the shutter button. After the shutter closes, review the image on your camera’s LCD monitor. Fine-tune your settings quickly. Fireworks displays are fairly short. Take as many pictures as you can; you can’t predict which burst will be the best, so capture as many as you can.