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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  1. July 4, 2011 at 10:49 am —

    You inspired me to go ahead and try it. I think I got some decent ones for not following any rules. I have seen ‘bulb mode’ show up on my camera but I don’t really understand it yet. I need to go do some research on that. I actually don’t mind the smoke in the shot. It’s what I see in real life and it reminds me of the whole experience.
    Here’s one of my favorites from last night.

  2. July 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm —

    Bravo and Kudos to everyone that posted! The results are great! I will try my hand at capturing fireworks tomorrow night — I can’t wait!

  3. July 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm —

    This is so cool! Thank you for sharing. My family and I are going to a soccer game tonight and they will be having a fireworks show. I can’t wait to try this out 🙂

    Oh, and I LOVE the results you got!!!

    • July 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm —

      This is one of my favorites from the fireworks show at the soccer game we attended. I can’t wait for tonight’s show to get more. 🙂

      • July 4, 2011 at 9:59 pm —

        And I like this one because it shows the crowd watching the show. The purple sky is pretty too! 🙂

  4. This was a great post as always. I experiment with shooting fireworks every 4th of July when we have our big party. Here’s what I got last year!

  5. Here’s one more! Simple and easy!

  6. Here’s another…straight out of camera!

  7. Happy 4th of July! Happy Canada Day too! Great advice! My thoughts…when I’m in a crowd I just set my small Lumix point and shoot on a tripod…change scene mode to fireworks and hit the shutter while watching the fireworks. Works great for me every year! Good luck!

  8. Jessica
    July 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm —

    Last one 🙂

    • tracy
      July 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm —

      These are wonderful!! What settings in bulb mode did you use?

      • Jessica
        July 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm —

        Thank you!! 🙂
        I used f/16 to f/18 and ISO 200. No tripod, I positioned myself in my chair and balanced my camera on my leg.

        • Leslie Vu
          July 1, 2012 at 12:54 am —

          what shutter speed did you use?

  9. Jessica
    July 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm —

    Number two

  10. Jessica
    July 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm —

    Here are a couple pictures I was lucky enough to get last weekend. This was my first attempt ever taking pictures of fireworks and these are the only ones that, I think, turned out pretty good. I took these in bulb mode.
    Looks like I can only upload one at a time, so I’ll post two more. 🙂

  11. July 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm —

    Another fun thing to try that is fun is to shoot with a wide open aperture. If you’re going for the ‘fun’ and ‘experimental’ thing.

  12. July 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm —

    Thanks so much for sharing. This is perfect!

  13. Ronda
    July 1, 2011 at 10:19 am —

    I love photographing fireworks. I have done so for the past three years. Each year, my shots get better (and my husband gets more patient). I also found that I could use ‘overlay’ in PSE to put more than one shot in the picture. Happy 4th to you all?

  14. July 1, 2011 at 10:14 am —

    Here’s one I got at a baseball game. There’s just something about I love. 🙂

  15. Barbara
    July 1, 2011 at 10:00 am —

    I love all of these photos! hopefully I will have a chance to try my hand at this this weekend.

    Thanks for the tips!


  16. July 1, 2011 at 9:40 am —

    I love to watch Fireworks and so try to spend as little time behind a viewfinder and thinking about rules as possible.. especially as we only get them once a year. Also, I generally need my hands free for candyfloss, burgers and warm tea! I hope you get to enjoy some excellent displays on your July Fourth celebrations.

    Here is a picture that I took on Bonfire night 2010

  17. July 1, 2011 at 9:31 am —

    Thank you so much for the tips — and ways to break them. This will be my first fireworks with a DSLR, so I am very excited.

  18. July 1, 2011 at 9:22 am —

    Here is one of mine-straight out of my …cell phone! I want a “real” camera, but I love that I can also capture cool stuff I would have missed without carrying one on my pocket 🙂

    • Patty Mills
      June 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm —

      That’s a VERY cool shot! I’ve never seen one like that. Way to go!!!

  19. July 1, 2011 at 9:17 am —

    I don’t have a good tripod, and I really like holding my camera…just get a better feel. I’m no where near professional level but when in Hawaii, you gotta take pictures of the fireworks!! I did and love the results….not all are great but those that are are pretty good!! Thanks for your article…it makes me feel better because I don’t even know all the rule!! lol

    Attached a pic. Be kind, I’m not a professional just a hobbyist!

  20. Michele
    July 1, 2011 at 9:14 am —

    This is how I usually photograph the fireworks. I don’t like the pictures with all the smoke in them and so prefer the quicker speed. Yes, quite a few are not ‘good’ but the ones that I do get are quite fun! This was one of my favorites from last year. ISO 1600, 1/80, f5.6, handheld.

    • Alissa
      July 2, 2011 at 11:40 am —

      I hate the smoke in the photos too and I think your shot is perfect.

    • July 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm —

      WOW!!! I think this is beautiful! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Photographing Fireworks: Breaking All The Rules