Local Professional Photographer: Tips from a Professional #5 - Fantastic Fireworks, Part 2
2nd November 2010
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Well the family dog is now regularly to cowering in the cupboard, so its time to bring part two of my top tips for creating memorable images of this November’s great displays.

Part one is available in my blog archives.



As with almost any type of photography, choosing to shoot in RAW mode will give you more flexibility to correct exposures after the event, but to minimise the amount of work you have to do in post processing you should be prepared to set the camera in manual mode, and bracket your exposures for best results. A good starting point is somewhere in the region of 8-20 seconds at f/8 ISO 100.

You will want the sky to be black and the fireworks bright but not “blown out”. The LCD on the back of the camera can only give you an approximation of this, but the histogram that can also be displayed can & should be used to give you the best exposure:

Good Exposure


This histogram image shows a large chunk of Black, meaning that the sky is nicely inky black, and the highlights are close to the right hand edge, but not so far right that they are “blown out” and thus recorded as pure white on the image.

Bad Exposure #1

Sky not Black

The gap on the left hand side of the histogram shows that the sky isn’t recorded as black. This will give you problems later when trying to combine images.

Bad Exposure #2

Blown Highlights

The right hand side of the histogram shows that the highlights are blown out – the detail is being lost in the lights of the fireworks.

For more information on how to interpret histograms see this excellent resource here.



Daniel Davies Photography

There are two easy ways to combine exposures – you can do this either “in camera” – at the time of shooting, or you can use Photoshop or some other editing program to do it after the event.

To combine exposures in camera, you’ll need to set the camera to “bulb” mode. Most remote releases will support this in that the first press will open the shutter and the second close it. A piece of black card can be used to cover the end of the lens up between ‘bursts’ of fireworks. If you remove it as the fireworks streak upwards and replace it when it’s more quiet you can combine several fireworks into one single shot. Just be careful not to knock the lens with the card and spoil your hard work.

Alternatively you can use an editing program to combine your exposures. Again make very sure that the black sky is actually black (use the “Levels” command in Photoshop or the “Blacks” slider in Lightroom to correct this if necessary). It should then be a simple job to select an interesting area of one image and paste it onto another. The “Screen” blend mode is your friend here.

Daniel Davies Photography



Photographing fireworks is great fun and not something that can be done all year around. It’s also very different from everyday photography, so give it a whirl and remember with digital it’s not costing you anything to try and fail. Follow my tips above and you’ll be on the road to success.

I’d love to see any pictures that you do manage to create following these tips. Please feel free to use the comments feature below to point me to your images!


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