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July 5, 2013

How to shoot fireworks the complete guide

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Written by: Lawrence

Learn how to shoot fireworks the right way and without effort. I’ll show you how to shoot fireworks effortlessly in three EASY steps. Photography by Lawrence Atienza

Below are the images from the 4th of July spectacular I captured

1. SCOUT the location

Make sure to scout the location via google earth or any online mapping program where it details geography like trees and hill. Your location will dictate the gear you will bring to the fireworks show.

Things to consider:

1. City and car lights (this depends on what you want to capture with the fireworks)

2. Trees and hills ( you don’t want high trees or hills to block your view and get an incomplete fireworks burst)

3. Reflections and people ( these might be great elements to include in your fireworks image to make the shot a little more dramatic)

2. PACK for the experience

Once you’ve identified the location, it’s time to pack the necessary gear. I’ll detail the gear I plan to bring for my fireworks experience and detail why. I’ll also put an asterisk next to products that are optional but will make your life easier. I’ll also provide an easy to reference shopping list at the end of the article.


-Mosquito repellant (Long hours outside and near still water, this item is a must while shooting fireworks)

– Foldable chair ( I don’t think you want to stand or lay down on the wet grass taking pictures of fireworks)

–  Personal Mister (Depending on which part of the United States you reside, it can be very hot at night while shooting Fireworks. I prefer the Misty Mate 24 Deluxe for about 2-3 hours of mist on and off)

– Headlamp ( if you are in an area that is extremely dark, then it would be very difficult to change your camera settings without a light during the fireworks show.


– Camera (any camera with manual settings will work for shooting fireworks)

– Lenses ( ultra wide and/or telephoto) depending on location and situation.

– Extra camera batteries. For a fireworks show that lasts about 30 minutes , I would bring 3 extra batteries to be safe. If you own more, then I’d bring them all. You don’t want to miss a spectacular fireworks display at the end and find out its due to a dead battery.

– Tripod (If you want sharp fireworks images, then a tripod is a must. Remember whenever you are dealing with long shutter speeds of over 1 sec a tripod is a must.

Below are optional gear that would make your fireworks shooting experience a little easier.

– Eye-Fi Pro X2 16gb wifi sd card ( This wifi card will allow you to send your images directly to your iPhone, iPad, Android or computer via direct wifi transfer and if you have a wireless hotspot all you to automatically post to flickr which is exactly what I did for my shoot. I was posting images to flickr in almost real time.

-Neutral Density filters and/or circular polarizer* ( if you plan on including the environment like buildings and trees) For my shoot, I used the Fotodiox Wonderpana Ultra 66 Filter Kit. Primarily the circular polarizer and the .6 optical density 2 stop 145mm ND4 filter so that I can keep the fireworks close to the same exposure as the city lights.

Fotodiox Wonderpana bokeh lights photo

– Cable release *( Did you know that pressing the shutter can actually shake the camera and blur your image depending on your shutter speed? With the cable release you trigger your camera without touching the camera.

 For my fireworks shoot, I am taking fireworks photography to the next level by using a camera triggering solution that will trigger the camera for me without any action from my end. You might be wondering how. Well let me show you below.


The Camera triggering solution of choice for shooting fireworks is the Triggertrap mobile.

HANDS ON options

1. You still have the ability to use a basic cable release by simply selecting the cable release option and then switching to bulb on your camera and on the iPhone or android trigger trap app. So below are the hands on options applicable to fireworks photography.

– Cable release

– Star Trail

– Long exposure HDR

– Long exposure HDR time lapse

– Bramping (bulb ramping time lapse)

There is even a wifi option that by simply using two iphone or android devices with wifi you can use the trigger trap wirelessly with just one device connected to the camera.

HANDS FREE options


– Bang (you set the Db level to trigger. So once the fireworks explodes it will hit the shutter. All I will need to do is set a 2-3 sec shutter speed depending on the scene.)

– Seismic ( set the sensitivity to its lowest point as a starting point and adjust to the weakest fireworks burst) This option would most likely only trigger your camera for the largest earth shattering of fireworks displays) Similar to all hands free triggering options, you will need to fine tune your settings and lock them in before hand. So you can then let the Triggertrap mobile handle the rest.

3. SETUP to get the shot

Now your gear is setup and location locked down, let’s move into the camera settings to capture an amazing fireworks display. I am going to break up my setups based on the look that I am trying to achieve. Please note that these settings are just starting points and will require tweaking depending on the level of fireworks.



-WHITE BALANCE: tungsten but doesn’t really matter as you can change in post as long as you shoot RAW.

-FOCUS: Set to Manual focus after using auto focus on initial fireworks burst then change to manual and keep it there unless you change locations.


GOAL: Fireworks solo

So for this shot since I don’t plan on taking the environment into account but the sky I would set my camera as follows.

CAMERA SETTINGS for fireworks solo

Aperture: f11

Shutter: 10 sec

ISO: 200

Composition: Landscape or Portrait

Triggering solution: Triggertrap mobile Bang or Seismic , cable release bulb

GOAL: Fireworks buildings and water

CAMERA SETTINGS for fireworks with buildings with lights and water

Aperture: f11-f16 want the sparkle on the city light start at f16

Shutter: 13 sec

ISO: 200

Composition: Landscape or Portrait

Triggering solution: Triggertrap mobile Bang or Seismic, cable release bulb


Aperture: f16

Shutter: Bulb

ISO: 200

Composition: Landscape

Triggering solution: Triggertrap mobile Cable Release Bulb option

Filter: Fotodiox circular polarizer and the .6 optical density 2 stop 145mm ND4 filter.

TECHNIQUE: When in Bulb mode press the cable release right when you see the fireworks launch and then release when the fireworks starts to drift after the explosion.

If the fireworks launch isn’t visible, then keep on pressing the cable release until you see another fireworks launch with a trail so that a trail is visible at the end image.

Again you have two options:

1st option is the hands on approach using a cable release on bulb mode.

2nd option is the hands off approach using the triggertrap mobile to do all the camera triggering for you.

If you simply want to enjoy the fireworks display but yet still get some great pictures, then the triggertrap mobile options is for you. Although, if you are like me and like more control and don’t need to really enjoy the fireworks display then the hands on approach is highly recommended.


See you at the fireworks show!

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About the Author

Lawrence Atienza is a Jack of all Trades and Master of ALL. Whether it be in the realm of Advertising/Advertising operations with over 10+ years of experience to dabbling in the creative realm of photography and founding/writing for, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.