How to take a great photograph of a fireworks display

Achieving good photographs of firework displays isn’t just a matter of taking snapshots with a smartphone, but with a little bit of knowledge and equipment you can achieve some excellent results. To help you get a better idea of what can help we have asked two of our most trusted photographers for their top tips.

Cris Matthews works for us on a number of our larger shows but also comes to capture shots for weddings, celebrations and parties.

“Like with any good photography there are 2 main areas to focus on for really good firework photography; technical and creative composition.

The technical stuff is all about practice and knowing your own kit. You are going to need a decent tripod, and remote camera release (to reduce camera shake even more) and lens that is capable of capturing the scene you have in front of you. Finding your camera’s sweet spot for dynamic range is the key to mastering the technical side of this kind of long exposure photography. Only practice and research of your own kit is going to help you here. Try all your lenses, sometimes the cheapest ones make the best for fireworks.

Far more important are the creative aspects of firework photography. In an ideal situation I like to include the surrounding landmarks to give my photographs some context. Whilst I do like a good picture of fireworks against a black background, the ones that capture the whole scene and emotion of the moment are the best. I spend more time finding the right spot than I do taking the pictures.

Take the picture of the Adele concert at Wembley for example. This deceptively simple looking shot actually took about 2 days to take, most of which was spent negotiating my way into the perfect position to capture the shot. I think the fireworks lasted for about 12 seconds, so preparation is the name of the game. Planning the position, thinking ahead, testing your setup in the developing lighting conditions and being ready for that exact moment. Without all that prep and creativity there is little point being technically perfect.

The other thing I always have is a backup. Sometimes I use it as a wildcard if I’ve been thinking about a new idea to try. But having a second setup running automatically can generate some amazing results, and opens the doors to something a little more than a firework photograph sometimes.”

Nick Alloway has been taking photographs of fireworks displays for over two decades (symptomatic of having a firework-obsessed son) and has the following tips.

“Choose your pitch before the crowds arrive, preferably in a location where you are least likely to get jostled.  If your tripod gets knocked even a tiny bit while you’re taking a shot, the result will be blurred and unusable.

For the same reason a cable release or remote is vital to avoid physically pressing the shutter and moving the camera.

Use an aperture of f18 up to f22 for the brightest sequences, with manual focus set to infinity and ensure you’re using an exposure time of around 3-4 seconds.  The short automatic exposures of basic cameras give underwhelming results with the firework stars looking like dull points of light rather than bright, bold trails.

Experiment with different positions and angles in daylight to ensure you can fit everything you want in to the shot, particularly if there is an impressive backdrop as shown in this example from London New Year’s Eve.  I love the imposing stature of the London Eye when shot from slightly to one side and low down as opposed to a more flat, front-on view.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and in particular the wind direction.  If you set your camera up downwind of the display, then it’s likely that the build-up of smoke will spoil many of the pictures taken after the first minute or so.

It’ll take a bit of experimentation but the results in the end will be well worth it. Above all, don’t give up!”

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