10 tips for explosive firework photography

Kit, techniques and composition – top tips for photographing fireworks.
Multicoloured fireworks explode in the dark skies above a bridge, illuminating the water below.

1. What is the best Canon camera for fireworks photography?

A young woman in a blue winter hat holding a Canon EOS RP camera.

Mirrorless technology is ideal for fireworks photography. Cameras such as the Canon EOS RP and Canon EOS R6 show you how your exposure will look through their electronic viewfinders as well as on their rear screens, enabling you to see exactly how your final image will appear. If you're using a DSLR camera such as the Canon EOS 90D, the same thing can be achieved on the rear screen using Live View mode with exposure simulation enabled.

It doesn't matter what kit you have or how experienced you are – fireworks photography can be both easy and fun. If you're out enjoying a fireworks display, the ideal way to capture the event is a go-anywhere pocket-sized camera such as the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS, with its high-sensitivity CMOS sensor, or the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, with its bright f/1.8 maximum aperture, which is great for night and low-light photography.

The powerful Canon EOS RP and Canon EOS 90D are perfect for photographers wanting more creative freedom. The full-frame sensor in the EOS RP provides heightened control over depth of field and greater performance in low light. The EOS 90D is equally impressive when lighting is poor, with a dedicated Handheld Night Scene mode for sharp low-light scenes without a tripod. Both cameras feature Canon's DIGIC 8 imaging processor, which digitally reduces image noise even at high ISO (sensitivity) settings for great results and flexibility in the dark.

For a further step-up, the Canon EOS R6 is a professional-level camera designed with low-light photography in mind. It has 20.1 megapixels spread across its full-frame sensor, which means each pixel is larger and more light-sensitive, resulting in superb quality low-light shots and outstanding dynamic range. It also features up to 8-stops of image stabilisation when used with compatible RF lenses, which means you can get blur-free night shots even when shooting handheld at relatively slow shutter speeds, to capture as much light as possible.

2. What are the best lenses for fireworks photography?

Red and gold fireworks light up a dark sky.

The built-in lenses on compact cameras such as the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III are more than capable of photographing fireworks – as shown here, captured at 36mm, 2 sec, f/11 and ISO125.

Pink and gold fireworks explode in the sky above a metal bridge.

A compact zoom lens will enable you to get closer to the action, and built-in image stabilisation means your handheld shots will be beautifully blur-free. Taken on a Canon EOS M10 (now succeeded by the Canon EOS M200) with a Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens at 90mm, 6 sec, f/18 and ISO100.

You can get great shots simply by using the built-in lens on a compact superzoom camera, or the kit lens that came with your camera. If you can change to other lenses, however, you can create more varied and creative compositions.

Shorter focal lengths enable you to include buildings and structures in your shots for added context and visual interest. A wide-angle prime lens such as the affordable Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM is a great staple to have in your kitbag with a Canon EOS R System camera such as the EOS RP or EOS R6. Its compact profile makes it a versatile companion for all sorts of photography. Pairing an EOS R System camera with a wide-angle zoom such as the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM or the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM will allow you to change the focal length to vary your compositions – something which is especially useful at busy displays where standing space is limited.

Conversely, telephoto lenses isolate and highlight details, resulting in impressive frames filled entirely with fireworks.

For the best of both worlds, try a zoom lens with a wide focal range, such as the Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM, which has the added benefit of built-in image stabilisation for consistently sharp shots.

3. What's the best location for fireworks photography?

It's worth planning ahead to find a spot that will be free of obstructions. Check the location in daylight and find out which way the wind will be blowing. This is particularly important if there will be a bonfire, as it will help you to avoid smoke or embers creeping into the frame. If you're planning to use a tripod, set it up in a spot where other people are unlikely to get in the way as you shoot.

A location with an interesting object in the foreground, such as a bridge, can also add another dimension to your photographs.

4. How do I photograph the atmosphere of fireworks at a party?

A bright sparkler burning down, throwing sparks in all directions.

Photographing sparklers is a great way to ease yourself into shooting fireworks, and can be done at minimal expense. Experimenting with light painting can also be a fun family activity.

A good way to capture the atmosphere of a party is to photograph family members playing with sparklers, using their imagination to create fun and artistic patterns with light. The Canon Photo Companion app has a tutorial explaining the best techniques and settings for light painting, as well as plenty of other ideas for amazing pictures.

Another way to create an interesting shot is to capture the reflection of fireworks in a window, with friends or family members looking out from the inside. Take a couple of test shots to ensure your subjects are well exposed, and keep those settings for when the action unfolds. If your camera offers this option, make sure to capture your images in RAW format. This will give you maximum flexibility when it comes to adjusting how different parts of the image are exposed. Post-processing can be done in Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Canon's free RAW processing and editing software.

5. How can I get sharp fireworks photos?

Pink and purple fireworks light up the sky above a bridge.

Setting your camera to Continuous Shooting will help you to capture a spectacular image, even if the fireworks go off a moment before or after you expect them to. Taken on a Canon EOS M10 with a Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens at 100mm, 6 sec, f/11 and ISO100.

Two orange fireworks burst in the dark sky.

Take photos as the fireworks begin and check whether you're happy with the exposures. If they are too bright, you can try a narrower aperture (higher f-number), such as f/11. If they are too dark, you can try a wider aperture or increase your ISO setting – but remember, the lower the ISO, the sharper the image and the less risk of image noise. Taken on a Canon EOS M10 with the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens at 40mm, 30 sec, f/11 and ISO100.

The first key thing to do, whichever device you're using, is to turn off your flash – you want the light of the fireworks, not nearby objects lit up with flash. Then, if possible, switch your camera to a mode that allows you some control over settings, such as Shutter Priority (Tv) or Manual (M) mode.

It's difficult to know when the biggest and most colourful fireworks will explode, so it's also a good idea to set your camera to continuous shooting, also known as Burst mode, and take several images in quick succession each time you press the shutter button. This will increase your chances of capturing one or two images with particularly dramatic explosions. The Canon EOS R6 shoots continuously at up to 20fps in electronic shutter mode, ensuring you won't miss any of the action.

If your camera is on a tripod, you can use the Canon Camera Connect app to wirelessly control the camera shutter with your phone or tablet. Alternatively, you could use a wired or wireless remote, or even your camera's self-timer feature. All of these will enable you to trigger the exposure without touching the camera, which will help to avoid camera shake and keep your images sharp.

6. How do I take fireworks pictures without a tripod?

If your lens features image stabilisation (look for IS in the lens name), or you have a camera such as the Canon EOS R6 with in-body IS, this will help to banish any minor shake that comes from shooting handheld, but be aware that it may reduce your shutter speed if you shoot in Aperture Priority (Av) mode. If you are using a tripod, switch your lens's IS off. Otherwise, for extra stability, try placing your camera on a stable surface such as a ledge or wall, using Live View on the screen on the back of the camera or taking test shots to check your composition.

7. How do I focus when photographing fireworks?

A child wearing a coat and a beanie hat, watching yellow and red fireworks fill the sky.

When shooting fireworks, something else to try is focusing on an interesting subject in the foreground. This will create a beautiful out-of-focus background. (The technical term for the silky quality of background blur is bokeh.) Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens at 85mm, 1/100 sec, f/1.8 and ISO1600.

Set your camera to Manual focus, or move the focusing switch on your lens to the MF position, and adjust your focus to Infinity. On your lens body or camera screen, this is denoted by the ∞ symbol. This is probably where you'll want your focus if you're concentrating on capturing the fireworks in the sky.

If you want to include foreground elements in the photo and want these to appear sharp as well, a good tip is to focus on a point about a third of the way into the scene, which will produce maximum depth of field and make most of the shot sharp between the foreground and background. This is a quick way to emulate a professional technique called hyperfocal focusing – you can read more about it, as well as use a more precise hyperfocal distance calculator, in the Canon Photo Companion app.

8. What settings should I use to photograph fireworks?

Whichever camera you use, a lower ISO (light sensitivity) setting will give sharper images with better colour and less noise. So start with a setting such as ISO100 or ISO125 and then adjust your aperture and shutter speed to get a good exposure.

If you're shooting handheld, start with the slowest shutter speed you can use without introducing unacceptable blurring caused by camera shake or the motion of the fireworks. A shutter speed of around 1/10 sec often works well – fast enough to freeze the motion of the fireworks, but long enough to capture their light. When using a camera on a tripod, you can use a much slower speed, such as one or two seconds, as your starting point.

When you want to retain some sharpness throughout the scene, start with an aperture setting around f/8. If you need to let more light in but can't use a slower shutter speed without blurring, then you can try widening the aperture to f/5.6 or f/4 – but the wider you make the aperture (that is, the smaller the f-number), the narrower the depth of field also becomes, meaning that less of the scene is in sharp focus.

It may take some trial and error to find the right balance of shutter speed to capture the detail you want as sharply as you want, combined with an aperture that gives a good exposure and the depth of field you want. If you can't get well-exposed, blur-free results using aperture and shutter speed, then try adjusting the ISO. Cameras with larger sensors – such as full-frame mirrorless cameras like the EOS RP or EOS R6 – offer better high-ISO performance and will give the best results, but it's still a good rule of thumb to keep ISO low and increase it only if you need to.

9. How do I capture firework shapes?

Your camera's Bulb mode enables you to keep the shutter open for as long as you need, which means that you can capture the fireworks as they move across the sky and explode, leaving light trails that show impressive shapes. To use Bulb mode, select Manual (M) or Shutter Priority (Tv) mode, and dial all the way to the end of the options, past 30 sec. Press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and again when you want to close it.

For long exposures you will need to keep the camera very still, so a tripod is required. Using a cable release or a remote control, such as the Canon Wireless Remote Control BR-E1, is very helpful too, as it enables you to shoot hands-free and keep your images pin sharp. If you have a Wi-Fi enabled camera, such as the Canon EOS 90D, you can also try the Canon Camera Connect app, which enables you to trigger the shutter remotely from your smartphone or tablet.

10. How do I get the correct exposure for fireworks?

A dark sky with bright fireworks exploding against it is a fairly unusual scenario in terms of photographic subjects, and in automatic modes your camera might set an exposure that is too bright for a night-time fireworks image. If you shoot in Manual (M) mode, or a semi-automatic mode such as Aperture Priority (Av) or Shutter Priority (Tv), you can use exposure compensation to avoid this. Look for the -/+ button or icon on the screen and set it to about -1 or -2.

If you use Manual (M) mode, you can also keep an eye on the exposure indicator scale on the LCD screen or at the bottom of your camera's viewfinder while choosing a combination of settings that push the indicator to the left of the scale.

It's possible to capture spectacular photographs of fireworks no matter which camera you're using. What's most important, though, is to get out there, give it a try and have some fun!

Written by Peter Wolinski

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