Photographing fireworks

Transission to the new year

Fireworks that begins on the end of this year and opens the next, is a highlight for many!  We have several good advices on how you can capture this with your camera!

The transission to the New Year is in many places marked with a grandiose firework display. It’s not necessary to have a great many rockets before you can capture some great pictures. You need a camera that can expose on time and a rack. Pictures of fireworks can be great, and a few simple grips can be the difference between the unsuccessful and the good pictures.


If you want to show many rockets on a picture, you must have a good distance to the fireworks, for example from a vantage point. You can also include some of the surroundings, if its buildings, landscape or people. The most important part is that the camera has a “time” mode (B), so the shutter can stay open a few seconds. Without this function it’s very hard to take good pictures of fireworks.

When exposing on time, the camera must remain steady. The most practical is off course a camera rack, however the frame of a window or the roof of a car can be just as useful. If you use a camera with film, be advised to use film with sensitivity 200 ISO (ASA) and a blender opening around 11 should be appropriate. The same sensitivity can also be applied to most digital cameras on the marked with semi advanced features. The shutter must remain open so that you can capture a “suitable” number of explosions. Maybe you can get 4-5 colorful rockets, more effects on the same place in the picture may easily ruin each other.

Some think that since its dark, one shall use the flash, it is the firework itself that has to do the job. The flash however can illuminate the foreground, where you can place friends and/or family – in this way you can capture both the people and the fireworks. If you use an advanced camera with external flash and this does not flash when you photograph on time (B), you should trigger the flash manually while the shutter is open. That the humans in the picture move, before or after you fire the flash don’t matter – they probably won’t be visible. And if there are some shadows or contours – it can even make the picture more stylish.

It is important to have enough film or space on the memory chip, and a bit of patience.

We wish you the best of luck and a Happy New Photo year!

Yours faithfully Svea Fyrverkerier AS


These great pictures was taken with an ordinary Canon Ixus 500.


Tips From Smithsonian Photographers:

Shooting Fireworks: Capture The Spectacle

Advice to help make your next pyrotechnic photography the best yet

Predictable as the changing seasons, some of the world's most spectacular fireworks return regularly to the National Mall in Washington. They accompany the Fourth of July, Presidential Inaugurals, and sometimes special events such as the Desert Storm Victory Celebration.

As much fun as they are to watch, fireworks are equally as challenging to photograph. Working on the Mall gives the Smithsonian's staff photographers on-going opportunities to capture these events on film, and to test and improve their individual photographic techniques. Although their individual techniques may vary, the Smithsonian photographers all have some basic recommendations.

Choosing the correct viewing position should be one of the first considerations. According to Eric Long, "have something in the photo that's identifiable." That might be a building, or as is often the case on the Mall, one or more of the National monuments. "Having water in the foreground to reflect the fireworks also works well," Long adds.

For his well-published photograph of the fireworks at the Clinton Presidential Inaugural Nick Parrella chose a position across the Potomac River near the Iwo Jima Memorial because, according to Parrella, "it was a good vantage point for lining up the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Capitol in the shot."

Jeff Tinsley chose the Arlington side of the Potomac when he shot the Desert Storm fireworks, using the river and numerous small boats anchored there as an effective foreground. "They were shooting fireworks from both the Mall and Union Station," Tinsley notes, "and from there I could get the bursts from both sites in the same photograph". It was the first time fireworks in Washington were launched at the same time from two separate locations.

There are also other considerations in choosing a location. "Find out which way the wind is blowing and get upwind," says Richard Strauss. "Fireworks create smoke and if the wind blows it towards your position it not only blocks the shot but makes it uncomfortable to shoot. From the right position you can use the smoke to your advantage. As the fireworks program builds, the smoke reflects light and can help define the shot," he adds.

Look for a unique position. It's not always easy to get approval to shoot from an unusual location, but the results can be worth the effort. For example, to photograph the fireworks at the Desert Storm Victory Celebration, Dane Penland shot through the windows at the top of the Washington Monument.

"I had seen fireworks from up inside the monument, but I'd never taken photographs from there," Penland says. "It's very different because you're viewing the fireworks at eye level."

Shooting from the top of the tower at the Smithsonian Castle Building, Alan Hart also enjoyed a unique perspective of the Desert Storm fireworks. "It put me just high enough to get a perfect silhouette of the Washington Monument in front of the spectacular bursts."

Sometimes there are opportunities which can't be planned in advance. During the Desert Storm Victory Celebration, Hugh Talman covered the fireworks at the USO show.

"At the end of the fireworks they played the National Anthem," Talman recalls. "The military personnel were saluting while the bursts were filling the sky in front of them. I got down on the ground and shot with a 24mm wide-angle lens, positioning those saluting in the foreground."

Talman waited for bursts to light thesky and shot a series of bracketed frames beginning at 1/30-second and working down to 1/4-second. He first tried usingflash-fill to light those saluting. However, according to Talman, "I had trouble with the flash cord, and the flash didn't fire for one shot. The resulting photo wasn't what I originally wanted, but it was better than when the flash went off."

The kind of camera you use really doesn't matter as long as you can manually control it.

According to Eric Long, "Fireworks create a very bright light source, and cameras set for automatic exposure will miss the exposure every time. You must have manual control of both the shutter speed and f/stops."

Almost any lens, wide-angle or telephoto, that gives the desired perspective will work. Because the exposures will usually be at f/8 or f/11, a fast lens isn't necessary.

Most, but not all, of the Smithsonian photographers recommend using a slower speed (ISO 64 or 100) slide film. Some, like Talman, prefer color negative film because, "it has greater exposure latitude and contrast control."

Their preferences for daylight vs. tungsten film also vary.

"I think of fireworks as an artificial light source," says Long, who prefers tungsten film. Jeff Tinsley selects his film to match the lighting on his foreground buildings. "Originally I shot only tungsten film because the buildings were lit with artificial light which made them look more natural," he says. But now the lighting on the monuments around the Mall has changed to several mixed sources, so I use more daylight film."

Dane Penland uses daylight film because, "it gives a warmer saturation," while Nick Parrella uses daylight film because he feels it gives him "truer color."

Exposure techniques also vary. Expect exposure times to be long, varying from just under a second to more than 15 seconds. The trick is to have the shutter open at just the right time to catch the bursts.

It may seem obvious, but always use a tripod.

"Set the shutter speed to "B" (Bulb) and use a locking cable release since you will be making timed exposures," Strauss says.

Starting with a basic exposure of f/8 and 4-seconds for ISO-64 film, most of the photographers bracket their exposures during the fireworks show. Opening the lens just before a burst is launched will capture the firey streak climbing skyward as well as the burst itself.

Tinsley locks the shutter open while covering the lens with a black cardboard card. Then he watches the sky, uncovering the lens periodically to accumulate bursts. "If you watch the streamers as they launch, you can judge where the burst will be," he says. "That way you can compose the frame so the entire sky is filled with bursts. If you really want a challenge, you can also try to compose based on the color of the bursts." Parrella prefers to meter for the buildings, generally resulting in a 9-15 second exposure. He then times opening the shutter at the start of a series of bursts, leaving the shutter open until the exposure is complete.

Because it's almost impossible to predict how a series of bursts will look there's also a certain amount of luck involved. "You never know how good the burst will be," Hart notes. "So I usually wait until the sky goes dark again before I close the shutter." A final piece of advice. Eric Long concludes that it's best to pace exposures during the show and not use all the film too soon. "The programs usually get better as they progress, building to a grande finale. Save some film for the best shots near the end."

By Jim Wallace