capturing fireworks :: long exposure photography

One of my fondest childhood memories involve our small Texas town’s all-day 4th of July activities at the ballpark. It seemed like everyone drove the dusty road that dead ended into the baseball fields for the celebrations. Baseball, three-legged races, watermelon seed spitting contests — there was always lots to do. As the sun went down, everyone, with their sun-kissed faces, made their way to watch the fireworks show.

My dad was on the local fire department, so his job was in the thick of it, shooting off those bursts of light. As a child, the fireworks show was THE highlight. It mesmerized me.


As an adult, it does the exact same thing. It captivates me. Have you ever tried to capture the brilliance of fireworks? It’s easy to try and end up with this …

firework blip

… a small blip that is not at all what you are seeing with your naked eye. With a few easy tips, though, you can end up with shots that light up the sky and provide a memory of your Independence Day Celebrations. A few helpful tips for long exposure photography …

1. Turn off your flash.

Yes, I know it’s night time, but to achieve the results you want, you will need to turn it off.

2. Use a tripod.

Although, it’s not totally necessary, a tripod can be helpful for a crisp, clear shot. It’s pretty much impossible to hold your camera still enough for the shutter speed you will need for long exposure times. However, if you like a little blur, holding your camera in hand will be absolutely fine. The bokeh effect (as in the first photo) is actually created by not focusing on the subject.

fireworks 2

3. Set your camera to manual mode.

If you’ve ever been scared to shoot in manual, now is the time to get over your fears. I would suggest setting your ISO to 200 (the higher the ISO, the grainier the photo) and your aperture around f/3.5.

4. Use a long shutter speed.

In order to capture that brilliance, you need your shutter open for a longer period of time. Those small firework blips like the photo above come from your shutter being too fast. Slow it down. The longer it’s open, the more light it will catch. I find that anywhere from 5-15 seconds or longer is a good shutter speed to catch enough light.

red burst

4. Play around with it to achieve the look you want.

Many times I’ll set my shutter speed, take a photo, and realize it’s too much light or not enough. Play around with it until you get the look you want.

5. Have fun!

Use sparklers or glow sticks and have your kids or friends spell words or create designs. You might not be able to see it until it shows up on your camera, which is half the fun. Press your shutter and tell your subject to “GO” with their design.

glow stick heart

Once you get the hang of long exposure photography, you’ll find it’s incredibly fun to experiment. The possibilities of what you can achieve by simply adjusting a few settings on your camera are both fun and great at growing your confidence as a photographer.

Happy shooting!

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