We still have enough season left for our summer fireworks shows. If you love photography as I do, there’s time to get out and shoot! Let’s list my favorite settings. Keep in mind, these are great starting points. Season to your personal taste and situation.

  • Start in Manual exposure mode (M on your Mode Dial).
  • Shoot in RAW
  • Start at low ISO. My lowest official Olympus E-M1 Mark II ISO is 200. Yours could be as low as 100.
  • Start at f11
  • Start with 2-second shutter speed.
  • Set your zoom lens or choose your prime lens such that you’ll not lose the top of your shell bursts. You might need to shoot a few bursts so you can make this setting.
  • I recommend manual focus.
  • Turn off Long Exposure Noise Reduction.
E-M1 Mark II, Zuiko Pro 12-100, 2 seconds, f11 @ ISO100

I recommend scouting out your most desirable location ahead of time. Make sure you have backups. Fireworks shows attract crowds so get there early and stake out your space. Be prepared, though, in case your favorite place is taken or someone pulls up in front of you with their box truck full of 30 kids and party supplies.

Got Gear? A tripod is a must-have. Don’t buy the shaky $39 tripods from big box stores or attempt to use bloatware tripods acquired with your online kit purchases. I recommend a good sturdy model such as the Manfrotto 055 with their 322 RC-2 head. I’m a firm believer that mass equals stability. Aluminum is heavier than the carbon fiber version, it’s cheaper and its movements are smoother and easier. This is a very versatile tripod/head combo, easy and quick to choose horizontal or vertical crops. You’ll have this equipment until you’re too old to go outside and enjoy fireworks shows so splurge. I recommend using a cable release for your tripod-mounted camera. That way you’re not jolting your camera each time you take a picture. If your smartphone camera app allows you to use your phone for a remote release, that works too. You can even use your self-timer but it’s hard to synch that with the show.

Verticals worked better than horizontals for this show.

Got Focus? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re in focus. Try autofocusing on the fireworks launch area when it’s still bright outside. Once your camera achieves focus turn AF off. If you like using AF, see if you can determine a scene element such as a building or street light onto which you can move an AF point. As long as it sees sufficient illumination and your camera autofocuses during the show, go ahead and use it. If your AF points land in plain black sky, your camera probably will not shoot. I recommend single point single-shot AF. Check throughout the show to make sure you haven’t disturbed your focus. Looking through your shots the next day is not the time to find you messed up focus during all the excitement. Don’t forget to double-check your composition. In these examples, I found verticals worked better than horizontals.

Processed RAW shot
Adobe Camera RAW brought back overexposed highlights.
Burned Highlights
Multiple bursts on the same frame caused burn out.

 

And Finally, One More Thing. If you attempt recording multiple bursts on a single frame by simply leaving your shutter open using your “Bulb,” setting, using your camera’s multiple exposure setting or trying multiple exposures on the same frame by using a black hat over your lens during a bulb exposure, you may find multiple bursts on the same frame causing extreme overexposure on areas of the frame as they all exploded. Sometimes you can process out overexposed areas using your favorite image processing software. I found the above settings worked well even during the finale. Happy explosions!