After a year indoors, this year’s Fourth of July fireworks are sure to be one of the highlights of summer. As most photographers know, the bright flash from fireworks against the dark night sky can make it tricky for both novice and experienced photographers to get a crystal-clear image of the spectacle.
Not to mention, by the end of the show, there’s a smoky haze that can mute the fantastic colors and light trails. But don’t fret, I have some quick tips that make it easy to take showstopping images that will make you want to get out and red, white, and shoot!
Scout Out the Location
Be there before the show begins to find a good spot. The farther away from the fireworks you are, the longer the lens you will need.
Use a Tripod
If you don’t have a tripod, you can rest your camera on a stable surface like a picnic table or a cooler. To avoid camera shake either use a remote shutter release or a self-timer of two seconds on the camera.
Adjust Your Auto-Settings
Turn off in-camera noise reduction and turn off the flash. The extra light makes it harder for the camera to focus.
Set the Shot
Apply good image composition by thinking foreground to background. Consider including a person, building, or reflections in the foreground to create a sense of scale and show off the location. Take a moment to photograph the people that are watching the fireworks since their faces will often be well- illuminated and full of wonder.
Photograph as much as possible early in the fireworks display — the longer the show is, the more haze there will be in the sky towards the end. While the finale provides the biggest bang, earlier shots of less fireworks will prove more vibrant in the editing stages by highlighting their individual light trails.
Capture Light Trails
To capture the light trails, set the camera to 100 or 200 ISO and shutter priority, starting with a two-second exposure. Increase or decrease the shutter speed to get more (longer exposure) or less (shorter exposure) light trails. For advanced photographers, use full manual exposure mode at 100 to 200 ISO with an aperture f/8 to f/11 and adjust the shutter speed as needed.
Edit Your Photos
Use Lightroom to make the fireworks pop in your photos. Try lowering the highlights and the blacks sliders to build contrast. You can also enhance the color by using the Color Grading wheels to refine the colors in the shadows, midtones, and highlights separately. With fireworks images, always check out the Clarity and Dehaze sliders to make your fireworks pop and reduce the smoky haze.
For more novice editors, you can learn how to edit step-by-step by checking out this guide, or use one of the built-in presets to edit with one tap. Check out Adobe’s 70 new presets — I recommend having a look at professional photographer Tobi Shinobi’s Futuristic and Nikk La’s Cinematic color-based presets. Because they focus on bright colors, they’re a great place to start for firework photos.
That’s all it takes! Go out and shoot, and enjoy some much-needed summer fun. Good luck, photographers!
About the author: Katrin Eismann has been a Lightroom Product Manager at Adobe since 2019 and specializes in interpretive travel, still life, and portrait photography. She is an internationally respected artist, teacher, and co-author of Photoshop Restoration and Retouching, Photoshop Masking and Compositing, The Creative Digital Darkroom, and Real World Digital Photography. Her images have been featured in numerous books, magazines, and group and solo exhibitions. Katrin is the founder and former chair of the Masters in Digital Photography department at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and she has never met a pixel she didn’t want to change.