Capture brilliant fireworks photos

Howdy, fellow Americans! This Thursday is Independence Day, and that means exciting, fiery displays will be filling the skies all across the country. They’re fun to watch, but pretty tricky to photograph! My tips from last year still apply (read ’em here), of course, but here are a few more suggestions from our friends at Olympus. Let me know in the comments how your photo quest goes, and be sure to share your best shots on social media tagged #mymikescamera 😎

To take great shots of fireworks, you’ve got to be versed in a few things. With these short tips, learn how to select the right Scene Mode in your camera, how to adjust your camera’s manual functions, or how to steady yourself for nighttime photos and create light trail effects.

Alex McClure | OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

Setting the scene for fireworks

Your first step in taking great pictures of fireworks is to simply select the Fireworks Scene Mode. The camera will then slow the shutter speed value and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).

If your camera doesn’t have scene modes or is able to support a high-level of manual control, set the camera to manual mode (M) and adjust the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Setting the aperture to f/8 and a shutter speed of 3 to 4 seconds should give good results. Set the ISO sensitivity to 100. And don’t forget to change to MF (manual focus) and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).

Here’s a rundown of common adjustments 
made in the Fireworks Scene Mode (exact numbers may vary by camera):

  • Shutter speed is set to four seconds, which helps capture the streaming trails of the fireworks.
  • Sets the ISO to 100 and the f-stop to f/11.
  • Sets the White Balance to 5300K.
  • Sets the exposure compensation to -1.0 EV. This is a full 1-stop underexposure to keep the firework highlights from burning out.
  • Sets the color to Vivid, the Saturation to High and the Contrast to Hard; all of these changes help enhance color.
  • Sets the Sharpness to Soft, which uses minimal sharpening in anticipation of post-processing.
Visionary Mike Boening | TG-4

More fireworks tips

  • If possible, try to shoot the fireworks so that they are downwind from your position. If you are downwind of the fireworks, you may lose visibility because of the smoke.
  • It’s a good idea to have a penlight handy in case you need to replace the memory card or battery in the dark.
  • Don’t forget about Movie mode. If your camera supports it, take a movie of the fireworks to capture the exciting finale in its entirety.
  • Try using your camera’s self timer to eliminate camera shake when manually pressing the shutter button.
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO

Timing your shutter speed

The traditional method for shooting fireworks is to manually select shutter speed. As you might expect, longer exposure times result in longer trails and shorter exposures result in shorter trails. You can set your shutter speed to a specific duration—you can experiment with 2 seconds, 3 seconds or 4 seconds to see what happens. The key is to time the exposure with the timing of the fireworks streaks so you end up with dramatic light trails in your shots.

The alternative is to set the shutter speed to the BULB setting, if your camera is equipped with this feature. In the BULB setting, the shutter will stay open as long you have the button engaged, and will shut when you release the button.

Note: You’ve probably already guessed, but you are definitely going to want a tripod with such long shutter speeds, even if it’s just a little one (like these ones) to stabilize your camera on a handy rock or chair. Check out our full selection here, or come in and try them out in-person at any of our stores.

Newer Olympus camera? Try Live Composite!

Prepare to be amazed by our Live Composite mode. When shooting a photo with normal bulb shooting, the overall picture may over-expose and get too bright if you are not careful. Live Composite Mode, on the other hand, takes the newly bright areas only and composites them into a single image while you watch the progress on your LCD monitor. This makes it especially useful for capturing fireworks together with buildings in the foreground. Moreover, you can use your flash to emphasize a moment, object or person during the exposure, or even use a pen light or sparkler to write letters.

OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

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