Spectators watch the "Celebration of Freedom" fireworks grand finale from the parking garage between 2nd and 3rd Ave. in downtown Cedar Rapids Sun. July 4, 2004.
With the Fourth of July Holiday rapidly approaching we thought it would be good to provide a quick tutorial on how to photograph your local fireworks display.
The "Celebration of Freedom" fireworks light up the night sky behind the 3rd. Ave bridge in Cedar Rapids Sunday July 4, 2004.
The most important piece of equipment you will need to bring with you besides your camera is a tripod. The tripod is necessary because long slow shutter speeds must be used to effectively photograph the movement of the fireworks through the sky. With out a tripod not only will the movement of the fireworks be recorded but also any movement of the camera itself causing your photographs to be blurry.
When you arrive at the site of the show scout out a good location with a clear view of the sky. Also look for interesting things on the ground that you might want to include in the framing of your shot. Things like notable buildings, lighted statues, flags, and carnival rides can all make interesting additions to your photographs. A good example of this technique can be found to the right.
Fireworks light up the night sky during the Alliant Energy Concert Night at the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival Friday June 28, 2003 at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Once you have selected your spot, set up, and leveled your tripod it is time to select a focal length or zoom for your shots. For the most part you are going to want to select a wider focal length so your photographs will cover a larger part of the sky. You can zoom in to try to get more creative shots of the fireworks exploding but you will most likely have more success with a wide angle lens.
Spectators watch the show during the annual Freedom Fest fireworks display at Kirkwood Community College on Friday, July 4, 2008, in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
When it comes time to actually start taking photos the first thing you need to do is make sure that your flash is turned off. Set your camera to manual mode and to a low ISO such as 100 or 200. Choose a small aperture such as F8 or F16 and set your shutter speed to the bulb setting. If your camera does not have a bulb setting set it to 1 or 2 seconds. For those of you that are able manually focus your lens set it to infinity. If you are not able to manually focus your lens or the infinity setting is out of focus use the first few bursts of the show to establish a focus point. These settings are just a place to start. You will have to do some experimentation to see what produces the best results for your unique situation. If you are using a digital camera make sure to periodically check your results and make adjustments as needed.
For those of you using a digital point and shoot camera check and see if it has a fireworks mode. This will likely produce the best results because cameras of this type usually lack the types of exposure controls discussed above.
Just remember to be creative, have fun, and enjoy the show!
If you have success photographing your local fireworks display and want to share your work email your photos to:
by July 8th and I will post the best submissions to the reFocus blog. Please include your name, phone number, date, and location of the display in the email. (Your phone number will not be published and will only be used if I have any questions about your submission)
Links to other info on photographing fireworks: