Rockets' Red Glare: How to Photograph Fireworks

Rockets' Red Glare: How to Photograph Fireworks

The Fourth of July celebration often ends with a firework extravaganza that captivates us all with its awesome beauty. So be prepared to "ooh" and "ah" along with the crowd. And, if you're like many of us, have your camera ready to capture the "rockets red glare."

What's the best way to take "great" firework photos? According to Chuck DeLaney, Dean of the New York Institute of Photography (NYI),the world's largest photography school, it's easy if you do a couple of simple things. "Most of all you need a steady camera, a long exposure and medium speed film," DeLaney explains.

First, take a time-exposure. If you have an SLR camera, this should be no problem. With an auto-everything point-and-shoot camera, try to "fool" the camera into keeping the shutter open. Here's how: When you see a rocket shoot skyward, press the shutter-button. The darkness of the sky should cause your camera to keep the shutter open for a time-exposure, and you can end up with a splendid picture. What about using a single-use "cardboard" supermarket camera? NYI says, forget it! These cameras usually have a fixed shutter speed, and you can't "fool" them into doing the right thing no matter what you do.

Second, and equally important, since you are taking a time-exposure, your camera should be on a solid, unmoving base throughout the exposure. A tripod is best. If you don't have a tripod, try bracing your camera against some solid structure - for example, a wall, a post or a railing. They're not as good as a tripod, but they're better than hand-holding the camera. And hand-holding is the road to disaster - no one likes blurry fireworks photos.

Third, to add an extra-special touch to your picture, include something on the ground to give a sense of location to the firework display in the sky. For example, across the bottom of your frame show silhouettes of the crowd, or a statue (George Washington on horseback?), or the skyline of the city. This one trick will do more to make your fireworks pictures stand out than any other single thing you can do.

For lots more advice on how to take "great" fireworks pictures, and some great fireworks photos, visit the New York Institute of Photography (NYI) Web site at

About the author

Reprinted with permission from the New York Institute of Photography website at


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