When you are shooting fireworks, there are few camera settings you have to remember. Even though there are no definite rules, I'm trying to cover basic settings and things to remember before shooting the fireworks. Once you get the idea, you can play around and change your requirements like Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO etc to adjust the exposure. To make it simple, I am taking the Nikon D90 as a reference for the menu settings. If you are using other DSLR, your navigation menu for the setting might be slightly different but the theory is same.
Things to remember before shooting fireworks
First of all, you have to get into the fireworks place at least 30 minutes prior shooting time to setup the camera on the tripod and choose the best location to view the fireworks. Being too close to the fireworks is also not a good choice for taking pictures. If you are too close, you might get lots of smoke coming out of the fireworks and ruin your picture. And most importantly, if you are planning to shoot fireworks without a tripod, you are probably wasting your time. Now let’s review the camera settings.
1. Turn your camera Mode dial into Manual Mode (M).
2. Set the ISO to the minimum possible value to avoid the noise in the picture.
3. Set the shutter speed 2 to 5 seconds and aperture f/11-f/14 to achieve the maximum depth of field throughout the frame. It will let the camera sensor to grab more lights and you will get the clear view of fireworks.
4. Set your lens focus into Manual Focus. Auto-focus is not good idea when you are trying to shoot long distance subject (moving fast) in a low light condition.
Tip: If you don't have a remote control, you can put the shutter release option into self timer mode and set the timer for 2 sec. That will trigger the shutter release button in 2 seconds after you pressed it which will avoid the potential camera shake.
Here is one of the fireworks shot I took on July 4th in Washington DC. Despite of being too close to the fireworks, it came out OK to me but learned a lesson for the future.
Focal Length - 18mm Aperture - f/20 Exposure - 2 sec ISO - 200
In this picture I set the exposure to 2 sec because I was too closed to the fireworks and they fired too many at the same time and as a result I got the overexposed shot with the 5 seconds of exposure time. You can always start with the recommended settings and then play around as you take more and more shots.