To take great shots of fireworks, you’ve got to be versed on 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.

SET THE SCENE

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 (∞).

Here’s a rundown of common adjustments made in the Fireworks Scene Mode:

  • Shutter speed is set to four seconds, which helps capture the streaming trails of the fireworks.
  • Sets the ISO to base/100/200 or a similar lower setting and the f-stop to f11 or a similar higher aperture value.
  • 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.

* Exact settings may vary by camera model.

Fireworks at Capital
Anna Martin (User Gallery) | OM-D E-M5 Mark III, M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4.0-5.6 II

MANUAL SETTINGS:
WHERE DO I BEGIN?

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 try these settings as a starting point:

  • Set the aperture between F8 and F16 (try F8 to start).
  • Try a shutter speed between 1 to 5 seconds. Anything other that might over expose or be too busy.
  • Set the ISO sensitivity between 200 and 500.
  • Change to MF (manual focus) and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).
Fireworks on black
OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
F11 | 1s | ISO 500

KEEP IT STEADY

ALWAYS use a solid tripod or set your camera on a steady surface. This helps to avoid "wiggly" fireworks trails.

Use your camera’s self timer, the OM Image Share App, or a Remote Control to eliminate camera shake when manually pressing the shutter button.

COMPOSING YOUR SHOT

When creatively composing your shot, keep the following in mind:

  • What are you trying to achieve? Do you want the whole scene with people and other objects in the foreground, or do you just want to isolate the fireworks?
  • Try capturing the scene in a way that shows the full context of the fireworks display.
  • Look for opportunities to frame your shot with surrounding buildings, trees, people/crowds, etc.
  • If you can, move around. Change your position so you are not getting the same composition for every shot — even if its just tilting the camera slightly.
Framing Fireworks
OM-D E-M1 Mark III, M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
F2.8 | 1s | ISO 500

SELECTING A LENS

Choose the right lens for your vision. Here are some suggestions:

Wide Angle
M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO or M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO
This will allow you to capture a much wider scene that will include the landscape.

Standard Wide
M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO II or M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4.0 PRO
This will allow you to capture some of the landscape and also get fairly close to your subject.

Wide Telephoto:
M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4.0 PRO
Similar to standard zoom, except with more reach

Telephoto:
M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
Great option for isolating the Fireworks display.

Fireworks
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm F2.8 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. Similarly, you can also try LIVE COMPOSITE MODE on supported models.

Fireworks by Sam Grove
Sam Grove (User Gallery) | OM-D E-M5 Mark III, M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
Fireworks launched from a park near our home in San Jose. Tripod mount and pan between shots to fill the frame.
Live Composite Mode | F18 | 1s | ISO 200

MAKE IT EASY:
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 or flashlight to emphasize a moment, object or person during the exposure, or even use a pen light or sparkler to write letters.

Here are tips to keep in mind when shooting fireworks with Live Composite Mode:

  1. Get a base exposure you are happy with. Be sure to test a couple times.
  2. Monitor the fireworks as they build on the screen. That's the beauty of Live Composite mode!
Fireworks
OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO

HOW TO USE LIVE COMPOSITE

You can find Live Composite Mode in most current OM-D, PEN and TOUGH Olympus cameras. Please look at these videos (as well as the video accompanying this section) for detailed instructions on how to use this feature.

MORE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SHOOTING FIREWORKS

  1. 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.
  2. If shooting in JPEG, set your color to vivid and saturation to High. This will help to enhance your colors.
  3. It’s a good idea to have a penlight handy in case you need to replace the memory card or battery in the dark.
  4. 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.
  5. Make sure to have fun! Don't get frustrated with your camera, the main objective is to enjoy the fireworks and the atmosphere. Capturing an amazing picture comes in (a close) second!
Fireworks
Alex McClure | OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO

Share Your Fireworks & Light Trail Photos in Our User Gallery!

 
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