Photographing Fireworks

Fourth of July Fireworks over Plymouth Harbor in Plymouth MassachusettsIt's the Fourth of July (or "Earf Day" for you Will Smith fans) in Massachusetts, and that means just one thing. Fireworks set to patriotic Russian anthems.

For a moment, as that "1812 Overture" reaches a crescendo, you'll forget about the traffic you're going to sit in when you leave Boston (or Falmouth or any of a dozen towns with fireworks displays this year in Massachusetts) and the $20 you paid for a bottle of water. You'll get lost in the glory of glaring rockets and bursting bombs.

Some of you will want to capture that moment, and that feeling, forever.

At Ryan Richardson Photography, we understand the desire to make those special moments last a lifetime (after all, that's what wedding photography is all about). So in celebration of America's birthday, we're offering a few tips to get brilliant photos of fireworks.

Getting Ready

To get a great shot of fireworks, you're going to need to do a little more than just grab your camera. You'll also need a tripod and a remote shutter release to keep it steady while you shoot (otherwise you'll get smeared shots or squiggles, that's a technical term).

Getting a good shot will also take getting a good spot. So be prepared to stake your claim early, but remember it's not about just getting an unobstructed spot. You might also consider getting a vantage where you can put the fireworks against a landscape or landmark, to make your shots just more than streaks of brilliant color in the sky. For example, if you were a Boston Photographer you might want to consider getting a shot that includes the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in the display.

Fireworks in Plymouth MassachusettsThe Shot

It all comes down to shutter speed. As the rocket lifts off you'll want to drag the shutter along with it, exposing the whole life of the explosion rather than any particular instant (in that way it's a radical departure from traditional portrait and wedding photography).

How do you make this happen?

Set your camera to "bulb" mode (usually found under manual settings). This will keep the shutter open as long as you hold down the button. Press the button when the firework starts going up, and release the shutter when the light begins to fade for the full effect.

The best part about digital photography is that you'll get instant feedback, which will help you experiment and improve your shots.

A few more quick pointers:


  • Keep your ISO low for less noise in your shots
  • Leave your flash off, unless you're adding in foreground elements it won't help you at all
  • Keep your aperture narrow for a wider depth of field and once you have the right focus turn off auto focus.


Final Thoughts:

Don't forget that it's a celebration like any other. As a Massachusetts wedding photographer, I'm not just shooting the bride and groom, but details in the environment, reactions from friends and family. So don't get too wrapped up in just the fireworks since there's generally a lot of other action going on. Use the light from the fireworks to get pictures of people's reactions, or those little moments in the semi-darkness that convey the emotions of the evening. Keep your eyes open because the most interesting shots aren't always up in the sky on the Fourth of July.