Capital Photography Center | Photography Classes in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia

Helpful Hints for Capturing Fireworks!

June 19, 2015 by Marie Joabar



Perhaps you will be on the Mall in DC on July 4th, or maybe at a smaller celebration closer to home. Wherever you are, if you’re looking to photograph the fireworks display, here are a few tips.  

The first thing to do is decide on your location. If you want to include foreground subjects such as a building or a Monument, scout out the perfect place ahead of time. If you are shooting from a new location, try to determine if the fireworks will be in the same place as last year and if so, try to find images of them so you’ll have an idea of where to position yourself for the best compositions. 



If you’re just looking to capture the bursts in a black sky without including any foreground, the location you choose to shoot from may not be as critical but still, consider being upwind so the smoke blows away from you and is minimized in your photos. In fact make the most of the first bursts, as time goes by the smoke from the explosions can show in your captures regardless of your position.


Have your camera and tripod ready before the first burst. Locate the settings you’ll need; manual focus, ISO, shutter and aperture controls. A small flashlight will prove handy to adjust your settings in the dark.

A sturdy tripod is essential. With long exposure times, hand-holding just won’t work. Consider a cable release or the remote timer as simply depressing the shutter button can cause camera vibration. If you don’t have a tripod, try setting your camera on a flat surface and use the remote timer.

Use manual focus and set the focus to infinity to keep your lens from ‘searching’ in the night sky.



Using the manual exposure mode, set ISO to 100 or 200, your Aperture between f8 to f11 and the Shutter to between ¼ second to 1 second as a starting point. Take a shot and adjust these if necessary. If the bursts are washed out, take away some light by setting a smaller aperture (f16) or using a faster shutter speed. If the bursts are too dark, add light by doing the opposite.

The fireworks are colorful but they can also be very bright. It’s a good idea to look at your images of the first few bursts in Playback to check for overexposure.  You’ll want to activate your Highlight Alert, otherwise known as the blinkies. Once activated, this will blink the overexposed areas of your image so you’ll know if you need to adjust your exposure settings. 



If you want to get multiple bursts in same frame, set the shutter to Bulb and in between bursts, cover front of lens with black foam core or similar. As the burst opens, uncover the lens for a second or so and then re-cover it.  It can be great fun to capture 3 to 5 bursts in one frame.  



Experiment with composition and take photos in both the horizontal and vertical orientation.



Have fun capturing the fireworks and send us some of your favorites! Post them on our Facebook Page or send them via email. We’d love to see what everyone shot so send them our way!