This year's July 4th Fireworks

This is my third time shooting 4th of July fireworks in Washington DC. I reached there well ahead of time (4 hours earlier to be exact). Being very early at the location, I setup myself closer to where they were supposed to shoot the fireworks so that I could get a good vantage point and a open space in front of me. I setup the camera on the tripod, checked all the settings and took couple of test shots to get the composition right. This year my goal was to capture the fireworks on top of the Lincoln Memorial building but later realized that my calculation went wrong about the focal length to cover the wider area. Last month I wrote a blog post on how to shoot fireworks where I mentioned that shooting fireworks is a new experience every time and sometimes things won't turn out the way we want them to and that is exactly what happened to me this year. In the past, I had made some mistakes while shooting fireworks and learned from them but this time, the issue was something else. As George Bernard Shaw said it beautifully, "Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time". This year the issue was my distance to the fireworks and the choice of the lens I made. It would have been a perfect decision to bring 70-200 mm only if I were little farther from where I setup my gears but it was already too late to move when I realized it. And the lesson I learned is - I should have brought 16-35 mm with me as well to get the view I wanted. Even though I was not able to get the shot I envisioned I would get this time, I was able to get few shots that are crisp and clear and do justice with the camera settings at least. Being very close to the fireworks, most of the shots were taken using 70mm focal length (widest view I could possibly get unfortunately) at f/8-f/11 aperture with the shutter speed of 3 seconds. In my first shot when they just started firing, I was able to get the Lincoln Memorial and part of the fireworks but later when they started firing all over the places, I lost the composition. Here are some of the photographs from this year's July 4th fireworks.











Please let me know what do you think about these shots. I am always open to any critics or comments you may have.

How To Photograph Fireworks

It is that time of the year again when we all get excited to capture the 4th of July fireworks. Capturing a stunning fireworks is an art work and an experimental fun at the same time. I think it is a new experience every time no matter how many times you have done it before. Sometimes, we get the perfect location and our camera settings work perfect but sometimes things won't turn out the way we want them to. But, no matter what, at least for me, when I go to shoot fireworks, it is always an exciting moment whatever the outcome would be. The moment of a celebration, meeting varieties of people and sharing our experiences with each other is another attraction of this event. Also, fireworks is probably one of the best form of an outdoor entertainment as well.

Before Fireworks

Before Fireworks

It is very important to reach the fireworks area at least 30 minutes to an hour prior so that you can choose the best location possible to view the fireworks and setup your camera on the tripod. You don't want to sit too close to the fireworks because of the smoke coming out of the fireworks. It does not look pretty getting those cloudy smoke in the frame (sometimes you can't avoid them during a shooting but you can edit them out during post processing). Also, if you are too close to the fireworks, it will get difficult to balance the exposure and you might need a wide angle lens to cover the shots as well. And, you don't want to go too far either, otherwise you will end up missing lots of details. You want to get a clear fireworks shot with the clear dark background.

I am trying to cover everything about shooting fireworks that I have learned over the years and divided this blog into two sections; basic hardware you need along with your camera and the camera settings for the fireworks.


First, let's discuss about some of the hardware you need to shoot fireworks.

1. Camera and Lens Camera : For the best results, you might want to use a camera that has a Manual mode. The reason is, you can't control what parameters camera will select in an Automatic mode. In a Manual mode, you can adjust an Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO and many other factors to control your exposure in a given shooting environment.

Lens : I suggest mid-range zoom telephoto lens for the fireworks since you can zoom in and zoom out depending on your location and distance to the fireworks. My personal favorite is 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II (if you are using a DX format DSLR) and 70-200 mm f/2.8G VR II (if you are using an FX format DSLR).

2. Tripod If you are planning to shoot fireworks without a tripod, you are probably wasting your time. If you want to get a crisp image, you can't shoot fireworks without using a tripod. Since we are shooting with a low ISO to avoid any possible noise and using 2 to 5 seconds of exposure time (shutter speed), we will get a blurry image shooting handheld. That's why it is probably the best idea to get a sturdy tripod that supports the weight of your camera body along with the lens. I use Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro tripod with a Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head.

3. Remote shutter release While shooting fireworks, you want to prevent your camera from any kind of shaking or vibration. Using a camera on a tripod definitely makes it stable for a long exposure shot and using a remote shutter release helps to avoid any camera shake while pressing the shutter release button. I use remote shutter release cable for this purpose. You may be able to use wireless shutter release if your camera supports it but I am not sure how easy will it be to use it at night and specially when you are in the crowd.

July 4th Fireworks

July 4th Fireworks

Now, after getting all the hardware together, let's discuss about the Camera Settings to get the best result possible. These are guidelines and not the hard and fast rules.

1. Turn your camera Mode dial into a Manual Mode (M). As you already know, Manual mode allows us to pick our own settings for ISO, Shutter speed and Aperture and adjust them individually to set the correct exposure.

2. To start with, set the Shutter speed between 2 to 5 seconds and an aperture between f11 to f14 to achieve deep depth of field. Combination of a slower shutter speed and a smaller aperture (larger f value) let the camera sensor to collect more lights, maintain a sharp focus throughout the frame and produce the trail of lights forming a beautiful fireworks.

3. I recommend using a Manual focus when you are shooting long distance subject (that is moving fast as well) in a low light condition. The reason is, camera's Autofocus system may not be able to track the subject accurately (every time) and lock the exposure to activate the shutter release button. For few initial shots, you can activate the camera's Autofocus system by pressing the shutter release button halfway down (lens should be in Autofocus mode) and once you get the clear focus, switch the focusing mode into a manual mode so that your camera doesn't need to track the fireworks and re-focus it every time it is fired which might slow down the capturing process. If you change the focal length (zoom in or zoom out) of your lens, you have to repeat this procedure again to get the fireworks in focus.


4. If you do not have a remote shutter release option available at the moment, you can apply this little trick to avoid any camera shake: set the shutter release option into self timer mode and set the timer into 2 seconds. That will trigger the shutter release button only after 2 seconds of pressing it and avoid any potential camera shake. But you have to be careful with the timing of pressing the shutter release button and firing of the fireworks. Otherwise you could miss the good shots.

5. Turn the Auto ISO off and shoot with minimum ISO possible, ISO 100 for example, to reduce any digital noise. When you shoot with an Auto ISO mode on, camera may bump up ISO value to compensate the low light condition and produce grainy noise in your picture.

6. You can turn off Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) feature on your lens while shooting on a tripod. Turning it off also reduces the amount of moving parts inside the lens and makes capturing process much faster.


7. While shooting fireworks, I recommend shooting in a RAW mode rather than a JPEG mode. That way you can always touch up later to remove any smoke or other distractions from your photographs.

8. Set the White balance into Auto mode. It works well most of the times and even if it doesn't, you can always change it during the post processing if you shoot in a RAW mode (another reason to shoot RAW).

9. And, you want to switch off your camera flash if you haven't already.

Take a few shots with the suggested camera settings and see how it works for you. If the image is too bright or too dark, adjust your shutter speed or aperture settings. It gets tricky during the end of the show when they tend to finish up with the rapid fire and you may end up getting over exposed photograph if you do not adjust your exposure settings accordingly. Personally, I would like to set an Aperture value into a large number (small aperture) and keep it fixed and only adjust the Shutter speed to a different value to control the ambient light. That way, you get the deep depth of field keeping everything in focus and also it will be much easier and faster just to adjust the shutter speed using the command dial depending on whether you are over exposed or under exposed. But you also have to be careful not to open the shutter for too long which might capture a longer action making your fireworks look blurry. You can also try the BULB mode (if available in your camera) and time the closing of the shutter as soon as the explosion ends so that you won't get any smoke into your frame. When using the BULB mode, you can use your cellphone timer to time the exposure.


Focal Length - 27mm     Aperture - f/20     Exposure - 4 sec     ISO - 200

After taking few shots with the recommended settings, you can always experiment with it and be creative with your shots. More you shoot, more creative you will become and minimize the chance of getting errors and making mistakes. Learning from our mistakes and not to repeat it again is the key for success. Do not hesitate to grab your camera and do some experiments with it on this upcoming July 4th fireworks.

Happy 4th of July everyone and Happy Shooting!

How To Capture Stunning Fireworks

This post is written by Guest Contributor, Champ Ocampo. If you are also interested in writing a guest blog, please reach out using the form in the Contact page.

One month to go before one of the most colorful celebrations in the world happens. The Fourth of July, the Independence Day of America. Of course, everybody does not want to miss this event, where skies turn into canvass because of fireworks display. And of course, if you have a DSLR, you do not want to miss shooting this event! But how do we capture fireworks with manual settings? I am pretty sure, if you do have a DSLR you do not want to shoot in auto mode. DSLRs are far better than any point and shoot while shooting this kind of events and specially when you want to control your camera on what to do next. This photo was taken last February this year, fireworks display by Team Canada vs. Japan during the annual World PYROMUSICAL event at the Mall of Asia, Philippines. Look how I got the trails of the fireworks perfectly.



My camera settings

1. Focal length – 70mm

2. Aperture – f/22

3. Shutter Speed – 15 seconds

4. ISO 400

5. WB – Kelvin 3120 (or Set into Cloudy icon)

I intended to zoom in my lens to 70mm to give emphasis on the fireworks trails. I set my shutter speed at 15 seconds, to capture more fireworks glow and enough brightness. You can set your ISO 200 to 400 (This compensates our Shutter Speed of 15 seconds, high ISO will give us more sensitivity to light and grainy photos). Aperture setting was at f/22 for maximum depth of field. Do not forget to mount your DSLR on a tripod to avoid blur and of course use a heavy duty tripod to protect our DSLR from strong wind blows when shooting outdoors. You can also use an IR remote. IR remote gives you a more convenient way of viewing the fireworks display. Just a tip, keep on shooting until the show is over; forget viewing the photos on your LCD screen for the mean time so that you will be able to enjoy the show. Right after the show, this is the right time for you to check your photos and I am pretty sure you will end up having few photos you think worth to keep as a memory.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod And Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

When I bought my first tripod about two years ago, I didn't care too much about the quality. I was rather focused on the price and got fairly priced tripod for around $50. My first DSLR was Nikon D60 which I bought with the kit lens and I was not having problem using that tripod with the D60. But when I upgraded my camera to Nikon D90 with a bigger lens, 18-200mm VR II, I felt the need for a sturdy and strong tripod to hold the camera (and the lens attached to it) without worrying about it falling off the tripod. I have had a bad experience (tripod legs fell apart) with my previous cheap tripod when I was shooting July 4th fireworks in New York city.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs

After doing some research and reading online reviews, I bought Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod with Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head. I could go with Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod and 498RC2 ball head but I felt like to go one step up just to be safe for the future gears. Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod shares all the features with Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod but the 055XPROB is a more sturdy, heavier and a little taller than the 190XPROB. When you are not doing photography, you can actually use the 055XPROB for the weight lifting purpose as well. I guess little bit of humor doesn't hurt, and in fact, we all need it as a daily dose.

Let me summarize the basic differences between the 055XPROB and the 190XPROB.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Vs Manfrotto 190XPROB

1. Weight Support

055XPROB - Supports up to 15.4 pounds

190XPROB - Supports up to 11 pounds

2. Base Area

055XPROB - Leg diameters 29.4, 25, 20 mm

190XPROB - Leg diameters 25, 20, 16 mm

3. Height

055XPROB - Min/Max. height 3.9"/70.3"

190XPROB - Min/Max. height 3.3"/57.5"

4. Weight

055XPROB - Weighs 5 pounds

190XPROB - Weighs 4 pounds

Both gears are designed with the same basic principles and share common features like extending the center column and fold to make a horizontal arm and both are made out of solid aluminum material.

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head works great with both tripods and gives an extra feature to those photographers who love to shoot panoramic shot using horizontal pan (Manfrotto 496RC2 Ball Head lacks this feature).

This ball head has been totally redesigned for better ease of use. A newly designed friction control knob allows the photographer to achieve superior control when handling the camera and making micro movements without having to totally lock and unlock the ball head. The knobs have been redesigned to be more ergonomic, easier to handle and more user-friendly. The ergonomic shape allows the user to better lock the ball securely. A re-positionable locking lever allows the user to place it in a comfortable position in order to use it in the most convenient way; just pull it outwards, put it in the best working position and then release it. This model features a RC2 quick release plate including an additional safety system that prevents the accidental detaching of the camera from the head. The locking lever securely locks the head both in the +90°, -90° ball positioning and in the 360° pan movements for panoramic shot or even getting panning effects. With solid aluminum construction, this head is the ideal support for all the traditional or the digital small or medium format cameras weighing up to 17 pounds.