Fireworks are beautiful. Photos of them can be, too, if you do your homework and are willing to experiment a bit. Here are some of the techniques experienced photographers recommend for getting keepers from an admittedly challenging photographic subject:
Use manual controls. Automatic exposure controls can't do justice to "bombs bursting in air." To get the best results, set the camera to manual mode, so you can control the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO yourself. Advanced cameras, such as SLRs, have such controls, though many basic models don't. If yours doesn't, use its fireworks or night scene mode, if there is one.
Determine the best shutter speed. Because fireworks are bright and dynamic, you may need to take a few shots to determine the best speed. If you close the shutter too quickly, you'll miss the spheres, rings, and other formations. Leave it open too long and you'll overexpose. For starters, set the speed to several seconds and, for each shot, press the shutter release just before the fireworks explode. Based on the results of each shot, fine tune the speed.
Keep the camera stable. Because of the long shutter speeds fireworks require, camera motion can ruin your shot. Mounting the camera on a tripod is best, but if you can't do that, seat it on something stable, such as a fence. With an advanced camera, such as an SLR, you can further reduce the chances of camera shake by using a remote release to trigger the shutter. Or, if you can seat the camera without having to hold it, try its self-timer, which eliminates having to press the shutter.
Include some context. Your photos will be more interesting if you shoot wider and include the horizon, landscape, buildings, or people. Using the fireworks to light the landscape from behind or the side can produce stunning shots. To avoid overexposing or underexposing the surroundings, before the fireworks starts, try several variations of shutter speed, ISO, and focal length.
Plan ahead. If possible, stay upwind of the fireworks or your shots may be ruined by smoke. Bring a charged spare camera battery and enough flash storage to take lots of shots. Before the fireworks start, make sure to remove any light-reducing filters (such as a polarizer) from your lens. And turn off the camera’s flash; you won't need it.
If you'll be taking your camera into the great outdoors this summer (even your backyard qualifies), here are some tips for keeping it dry. And here are things to keep in mind when taking your camera on vacation.
Have a great time this summer and share your photographic experiences and tips below.