Fireworks Photography

by William Lulow

Believe it or not, the best technique for shooting pictures of fireworks does not involve anything photographic! It basically involves timing! Even iPhones these days can take fairly decent fireworks images. But you have to realize that these cameras have a certain delay in the exposure time from when you press the shutter. It’s better to have a real camera. And,  you just have to know when to click the shutter. The moment the firework is ignited, the light is at its brightest. The trick is to wait just enough time for the fireworks to reach their peak point of color, but not wait until the height of the firework is finished. Also, you don’t need a fast shutter speed because when the explosive reaches its height, the movement is actually not that fast.

As I said, the problem comes with some point-and-shoot cameras as well as iPhones that don’t actually take the picture at the very moment the shutter button is depressed. This makes timing difficult but not impossible. Also, the problem with some of these cameras is that they often overexpose the actual light that comes from the fireworks and it’s hard to control the exposure because you can’t switch a camera phone to MANUAL mode.

One other point: it usually helps to have some point of reference within the shot such as a building or some other object in the foreground background. This gives the fireworks a “stage” to play on rather than just being abstract color images.


As with most photographic techniques, experimentation is needed.  This image was actually shot with my iPhone, but when I’m shooting with my DSLR, I usually mount the camera on a tripod and start my exposures at around 1/8th of a second at f/5.6 or so. I might even try some shots wide open and vary my shutter speed until I achieve the result I want.  I also have stopped the lens down to f/11 or f/16 and made a BULB exposure, or time exposure. I have found that longer exposures usually work best with small apertures. Even though it is dark outside, the fireworks themselves give off quite a bit of light. So, if you put the camera on MANUAL mode, you can better control your exposures.