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How to Photograph Fireworks

Have you ever tried to take photos of fireworks on your phone?

Every 4th of July, thousands of Americans point their phones at fireworks and post them to Instagram, expecting them to look as impressive there as they do to the human eye. The reality is that taking a quality fireworks shot that doesn't look grainy or identical to everyone else's is about as difficult as photographing the moon with an iPhone 6 (impossible).

Here's how to shoot fireworks with a real camera. And by "real," we're not saying you need the latest $3,000 mirrorless model, but you do need a basic DSLR with a Manual mode. Trying to capture a single burst or explosion is far less impressive than capturing multiple bursts over the course of one longer exposure. Honestly, this method is so easy and effective that it feels like cheating. Here are our methods.

  • Shoot in Manual mode. You can try to auto focus early and then switch over, but you should be in Manual.
  • Set your ISO low. We usually leave ours at 100.
  • Keep your aperture somewhere around f/11. It’s entirely situational, but this setting has worked best for us.
  • Keep the shutter open. At the beginning of a fireworks show, you can set it for anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds. Towards the end, you might need to get a little creative and use Bulb mode. More on that in a minute.

It can be tough to shoot long exposures of fireworks shows because of all the smoke. The longer the show goes on, the more smoke there is. You can solve this by finding a flat, black surface. Maybe a black folder or the back of an iPad. First, set your camera to Manual and your shutter speed to Bulb. Open your shutter when your have the first fireworks in frame. When the fireworks aren’t exploding, cover your lens with the black surface. Then remove the cover when the next batch start going off. Your end result should be a bunch of bursts stacked on top of one another with very little smoke blocking them out.

  • DO use a tripod and a remote release. You can use a cable or wireless release. Use what works for you.
  • DON’T use your flash. Unless you’re fancy and have a foreground subject.
  • DO find the right vantage point in advance. You don’t want to get caught focusing on the wrong area in the sky.
  • DON’T forget extra batteries. Taking long exposures will wear out your battery fast.

360 CHICAGO Observation Deck normally has fantastic views of Navy Pier's fireworks show.

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