fireworks exploding over water

Top Tips: Shooting Festive Fireworks

with your Sony Alpha camera

Plan in advance

Firework displays generally don’t last long, so be sure to plan ahead. Have an idea of the shots that you want to take and, if you can, visit the location during the day to work out where to stand and what lenses you will need so you’re fully prepared once the skies start to sparkle.

Working in the dark at night can make it tricky to go hunting around in your camera bag, so pack carefully. It is always worth taking a small torch with you in case you need to search for something, or just check where you are walking.

group of people watching fireworks

© Arthur Chauvineau

Shooting settings

For maximum flexibility, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. It will capture more data and allow you to fine-tune your exposure in post-production.

Lens choice and image composition

If the fireworks display that you are at will be overhead, then you will want to use a wideangle lens. Luckily for Sony users there are many incredible wideangle lens options, including the FE 14mm f/1.8 GM, FE 20mm f/1.8 G or the flexibility of the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM zoom lens. For a more affordable option there is also the FE 12-24mm f/4 G zoom.

If you are further away from the fireworks, perhaps on a hill overlooking a cityscape, then you will need to work out an appropriate focal length, but a zoom lens such as the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II lens or FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens should be good choices to allow you to zoom in to get the shots you want.

couple kissing in front of firework display

© Davide Monteleone | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/80s @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

Stabilisation and Shutter Speed

To capture the individual burst of a firework, you will need a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action, whilst also being slow enough to let some light into the camera. The slowest shutter speed that you can shoot handheld will be dependent on a number of factors, including how steady you can hold the camera and the lens focal length. Make sure to switch Steadyshot on in your camera and/or lens to reduce any small movements you may make. Try starting with a shutter speed between 1/10sec and 1/30th sec and then examine your images to see if the speed needs any adjustments.

For photographing the light trails or multiple bursts of fireworks, you will need a longer exposure. To best achieve this, use a tripod to keep the camera perfectly still. Quite how long your shutter speed needs to be is down to personal preference, it could be 1sec to 30sec for example, feel free to experiment with your environment and get creative.

Continuous Shooting

When trying to capture individual fireworks, rather than a long exposure shot, it can be a good idea to switch to continuous shooting and take a few images to give yourself the best chance of getting a great shot. Somewhere in the 3-5fps should be about the right speed to shoot.

Aperture and ISO Sensitivity

With the shutter speed dependent on how you want to capture the fireworks, you should set your ISO sensitivity as low as possible to keep noise to a minimum. As for aperture, start with a setting in the middle of the range - f/8 is a good place to start. Given the nature of shooting fireworks, there is always an element of trial and error so adjust the exposure settings to suit accordingly until you feel you’ve got the right setting.

Adding some background imagery such as the silhouette of a crowd of people or a tree can create an added layer to your imagery. If you did want to include something in the foreground, then you may want to reduce the size of the aperture further to create a larger depth of field to have them in focus. If this is the case, then you can compensate for this drop in exposure by increasing the ISO sensitivity. Once again, there is a lot of trial and error when it comes to photographing fireworks, and it’s all about testing what works for the environment you’re in.

colourful fireworks in the night sky

© Elisha Terada

Long Exposure Noise Reduction

One thing you will want to do if you are shooting exposures longer than one second is go into your Sony camera’s menu and make sure that you have Long Exposure NR (Noise Reduction) switched on. This turns the noise reduction on for the same length of time as your shutter speed, after your image has been taken. So, if you take a 10-second exposure, the noise reduction will work for an additional 10 seconds to help reduce any noise.

Focusing

If you are photographing fireworks against the dark night sky, you will want to switch to manual focus. If the sky is black then there is nothing for the camera to autofocus against, so instead switch to manual and focus to infinity, which is the furthest away you will be able to focus. Infinity focus is shown on the camera display with the ∞ symbol. Be aware though, that some lenses actually focus past infinity, so be sure to check beforehand. If the moon or stars are visible, you can use these as a reference point.

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