How to shoot fireworks

We’ve been off to the beautiful city of Kitzbühel in Austria for a weekend, and I shot a couple of photos. In the evening there were festivities of the local firebrigade, and part of this were fireworks. We had a beautiful view from our hotel, the excellent Schlosshotel Lebenberg, across the entire city, and this was the perfect location to capture them.

10 sec., f/11, ISO 400, Canon EOS 5D with EF 70-200/2.8L USM
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

For all of you who wonder how to capture fireworks, here is the simple guide:

1.) Find a location that puts the fireworks into perspective, i.e. that links them to a specific place. Beautiful fireworks are nice, but to see where it happened is much more exciting. (Always remember the real-estate agents: “Location, location, location!”)

2.) Get a tripod and -if possible- a remote control for your camera. You’re going to shoot very long exposures, which you will be unable to hold from hand. If you do not have a tripod available, find a solid and even spot to put the camera on and put the drive to self-exposure (ideally with 2 seconds count down).

3.) Prior to the fireworks, find a suitable crop for your image. You will need to guess how far up the fireworks will go so you can capture those beautiful round splashes against the dark sky.

4.) Set the camera to some low/medium ISO (100 to 400) to reduce noise.

5.) Set the camera to manual mode (M), and select an aperture between 8 and 16, and an exposure time between 5 and 10 seconds. And please do shoot in RAW mode.

6.) Still prior to the fireworks, do a couple of test shots to finetune your combination of exposure time, aperture and ISO. If the images turn out too dark, increase exposure time (up to 15 seconds is OK). If they are still too dark, reduce the aperture value (down to 5.6 is OK). Only if you still get images that are too dark, you should increase the ISO setting gently.

7.) Now the fireworks may begin! Try to get the rhythm of the shots. If possible, vary your crop between shots so you have a variety of shots and not just one.

Good luck!

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