Today’s Question: With the Independence Day holiday approaching [in the US], could you provide some tips for photographing fireworks?
Tim’s Quick Answer: In my mind the most important consideration for great fireworks photography is the composition. Try to find a position where you can have something interesting in the foreground. That and proper exposure are the most important factors to keep in mind.
More Detail: To be sure, a “simple” fireworks photo that only includes the burst of fireworks in a nearly black sky can be interesting. But to me it is much more interesting to create a composition with a strong foreground subject. That could be an interesting architectural element such as a bridge or city skyline, or simply people in the foreground enjoying the show, for example.
Obviously you’ll need to ensure a proper exposure, but frankly this is generally somewhat straightforward with firework photography. I recommend that you start with the minimum ISO setting for your camera, a lens aperture of about f/8, and an exposure of around 5 to 10 seconds. Evaluate your initial results, and adjust your exposure settings from there.
Naturally a long exposure will produce streaks of light in your photos from the fireworks display. In addition, it will provide the potential for multiple bursts within the same exposure, creating a more dramatic result.
I often hear the advice to set the focus at infinity. However, that has the potential to result in a scene that is not in crisp focus. Even with a wide-angle lens, sometimes setting the focus at infinity may cause the overall scene (or at least the foreground) to be out of focus. Try using the live view display and zooming in on a foreground element to establish focus manually. It will likely be challenging under dark conditions, but it will help ensure the best photos.
Most of all have fun and try to think creatively. The more you can do to make your fireworks photos stand out from all the rest, the more interesting those photos will be.