The above image is actually not just one image, but a composite of 5 images, none of which were shot during the finale. In fact the finale photos ended up looking like the enigmatic smoke monster from LOST because the shutter was opened for so long and the smoke cloud engulfed the beautiful fireworks. Here is the secret behind getting good fireworks shots with your DSLR.
1. USE A TRIPOD
This is the number one tip to getting quality fireworks shots. In order to get that cool effect of the spray dragging, you have to use a slow shutter speed. Otherwise the image just looks like a snapshot that you could get on your phone. My settings for most of these shots were ISO 200 F13-F18 and around a 14 second shutter speed. You need a low ISO in order to prevent grain, but to also make the shutter speed compensate by needing to be open longer to allow more light in.
2. Shoot In Bulb Mode
What the heck is Bulb mode? Bulb Mode is a designated with that B on the dial and is a manual mode in which you determine how long the shutter is, by how long you press on the shutter button. Most cameras cap out at about a 30 second shutter for normal settings, but in bulb mode, you can shoot a 15 minute exposure if you desire. I just basically pressed the shutter in and counted to 15 seconds and released. Shutter release cables are super helpful for this and very inexpensive. (You can find one here on Amazon for $20). Just make sure it matches your camera and brand before buying.
3. Use Manual Focus
When the first few fireworks go up, get focus using auto focus. Once the camera has focused on the area where the firework is going off, flip the switch on the actual lens, from auto to manual. Once you’ve done this you won’t have to worry about focus, because the camera is prefocused on where the firework will go off. Now, if you zoom in or out you will have to repeat the process. I recommend finding your best composition and leaving the focal distance alone. That way you won’t risk missing something cool while futzing with settings.
4. Prepare and HAVE FUN
Bring a flash light (you’ll need it). Bring water. Have fun. Don’t get so caught up in your camera, that you miss watching the fireworks. Enjoy the show while you capture it.
5. Lens Choice
Use common sense. If you are really close, use a wide angle like a 17-35 or normal zoom like a 24-105. If you are far away like I was, use a long focal length like a 70-200 lens.
Below are the 5 different photos that I used and later composited together in Photoshop.
This is the final result. Enjoy and happy shooting.