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Photographing Fireworks: Breaking All The Rules

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Photographing Fireworks: Breaking All The Rules

A few years ago I found myself at a baseball game with fireworks.  I did not plan to take photos of them. But I did.  Afterward I wrote an article for the Pioneer Woman about how we sometimes “break the rules” when it comes to photography.  Since this upcoming weekend is the 4th of July and Canada Day, there will be lots of firework displays in North America.  There are hundreds of articles on photographing fireworks the right way. But for today, we are going to cover what I did, break the rules.

photographing fireworks without tripod

Who decided the rules anyway? If you do a Google search online for “photographing fireworks” you will find a few common tips in every article.

  • Use a tripod: You CAN NOT photograph fireworks without one! Period!
  • Shoot manual and at a slow shutter speed: Allow for long exposures of many seconds to 30 seconds, even try bulb settings
  • Use a quick release trigger for the camera if at all possible
  • Shoot at a low ISO 100-200

So rewind back to summer of 2009 – we were at a Detroit Tigers Game. We won a special package through a Silent Auction for a charity included going on the field for batting practice and watching the fireworks show from the visitors’ dugout.

My twins were in awe as this “relatively small” fireworks display started. They wanted me to take pictures of the fireworks. So here I was with no intention of shooting fireworks, completely unprepared to follow any of the basic rules, and aware that I have no tripod or tools to steady the camera. Even if I had planned on it, I do not think I would be allowed a tripod at a Major League Baseball game. So I had two choices. Forget it or break the rules. I chose to break them.

As you will see, these fireworks photos look completely different than if I followed the rules.

* I hand held the camera (no tripod or monopod or even good place to lean)
* Release the shutter with my own fingers
* I tried various speed settings ranging from 1/8 of a second (remember I am hand holding here) to 1/250 too. I experimented with a bunch of speeds in between.
* I was mostly at ISO 800.

The results of breaking the rules:

  • The background was pitch black.
  • I did not capture long trails and fall off with the light that you normally get with fireworks pictures.
  • It made my twins happy.
  • The results were artistic and fun.

In conclusion, if you are able to prepare, do so. If you can follow the rules, do so. But if you are not able to or just did not prep yourself and do not have the right gear; do not hesitate to photograph those fireworks anyway. You may just surprise yourself and get some interesting shots despite your rebellion.

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60 Comments

  1. Jen
    July 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm —

    D700
    ISO 200
    f11
    4 sec

  2. July 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm —

    Tried the “Bulb Mode” for the first time last night…didn’t even know I had one!

    It was alot of fun trying something new!
    Robin

  3. I love these photos and wish I had a chance to capture shots on the 4th. Sadly it was POURING, not that it stopped us from firing off fireworks. Just from the camera being out there with us.

  4. July 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm —

    I had fun breaking all of the rules! Thanks for the push! I even went so far as to move my camera around for a few which made for some fun “light painting” shots. Here’s one where I kept as still as I could.

  5. Mars
    June 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm —

    I take fire works photos every chance I get.. I just stay really still and hold my breath.. lol

  6. Jessica
    June 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm —

    Fantastic shots everyone!

    I am a rule follower here, lol. I cannot hand hold very well! Even with my little point & shoot I used a tripod (only past couple years), and last year I had a remote to use with my camera, which was great! Just aim, set my settings up (i was low iso, other settings I can’t remember), and push the button, lol. Last year ended up with alot of smoke in the shots but it wasn’t windy at all. But here’s one of my faves

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Photographing Fireworks: Breaking All The Rules