Australia Day is coming… top 5 tips for fireworks

For many communities around the country our day of national unity and celebration does not only involve backyard barbies (that is barbeque for my non-Aussie readers) but also an evening of inspiring pyrotechnics.

A few people I know have asked me for some tips about how to successfully photograph fireworks and while there are a plethora of instructions out there I thought I would add my 2c in to the mix.

This is the sort of thing that once you have the technique down you can use it for all sorts of different applications photographically (eg: waterfalls, crashing waves, car lights : see below for examples). The last time I shot fireworks I had a young fellow in front of me who had all the gear and as I peeked over his shoulder I could see his settings were all messed up. I asked if he wanted a few pointers but he declined until the fireworks were well underway and he compared what he was getting to my shots on my back screen. That was when he asked for a little help (which I happily gave). So to avoid this happening to you, here are a few tips for fireworks …

Tip# 5.  Often all the great spots to see/shoot fireworks can fill quite quickly so it might pay to get there a little early. I know in Brisbane we have fireworks on the river and the top vantage points can be full of onlookers all bbq-ing by lunchtime. (Having said that I usually just turn up at T-15 and hope for the best – haven’t missed yet 🙂 )

F 8.0, iso 200, 2.5 sec, 18mm


Tip# 4. Have your gear and settings sorted before the first bang. You will need a tripod and a cable release (this is non-negotiable – you cannot hand hold fireworks photos or press the shutter to take the shot). The type of lens you use is entirely up to you. I am a bit of a closeup freak so I tend to use a zoom lens but if you like wide angle go for it, just think carefully about your composition and distracting elements that you don’t want to include. Settings wise – I am in manual mode, ISO low (100/200), aperture at about F8.0 and shutter speed set to Bulb (all the way past the longest shutter speed you have, usually past 30 secs).

f 8.0, iso 200, 2.7 sec, 48mm


Tip# 3. Pre-focus on something and lock your camera to manual focus. What I mean here is pick a scene. With the camera in auto-focus, focus on a building (or something in the scene that is a long way off). Then, once the camera has successfully auto-focused, turn the lens to manual focus (there is usually a button on the lens that has M/A – M or something similar, you want the M). Your camera now is focused on a fixed distance and therefore when the fireworks start you don’t need to worry that the camera can’t focus on them.

f 8.0, iso 200, 2.8 sec, 28mm - I liked the guys head in this, added extra interest for me


Tip# 2. Once the fireworks start, just click away with the cable release. When I take my shots, I am looking at the fireworks (not through the camera) and I am kicking back enjoying the show. As I hear a new rocket being launched I press the shutter on the cable release and I let it go when I think that that particular firework has finished. That is the advantage of bulb. As long as your finger is on the shutter it’s open, so you control the shutter speed manually.

f 8.0, iso 200, 1.4 sec, 28mm


And…. Tip# 1. Have a good time. Fireworks photography is fun but don’t forget to relax and join the crowds in the exclamations of “bluuuue, redddddd, bluuuue, piiiiiiink ….” That is what it is all about.

f 8.0, iso 200, 5.0 sec, 48mm - Piiiiink!


Oh, and of course be a considerate photographer. Try not to take over an area completely if there are other people in it. I find that rather than try to get my shot through heads I extend my tripod over peoples heads and that way I am not in anyone’s way. I like to share the joy.

Happy Australia Day folks 🙂

Torres Del Paine National Park (Patagonia) f 25.0, iso 100, 5.0 sec


f 8.0, iso 200, 3.5 sec, Hornibrook Highway traffic


f 5.6, iso 200, 1.3 sec, Taking the edge off the onshore waves

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4 Responses to Australia Day is coming… top 5 tips for fireworks

  1. Tanya Robertson says:

    Thanks Augustine, very helpful tips, much appreciated!

  2. Robert says:

    Hi Augustine, indeed some very helpfull tips, really going to use them! Grtz Robert

  3. Walter says:

    Hi Augustine,

    I got some good photos of the City of Perth Skyworks tonight, thanks to your tips 🙂

    The only problem was some (unexpected) rain, I tried to keep the camera dry with an umbrella, but could not avoid some spots on the lens-filter, which ruined some of the shots 🙁 any tips for avoiding that?


    • Augustine says:

      Walter – so pleased that the tips helped out. Rain can often play havoc with photography and seemingly it did for your shots. There are camera raincoats that can be bought cheaply on ebay and I tend to use one of those and the umbrella. After that it is a case of hoping it doesn’t get too heavy 🙂

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