Thursday, July 7, 2022

How (not) to Photograph Fireworks

 To start with, you want to do the opposite of what I did. I just grabbed my camera, tripod, and family, and off we went. Had I taken the time to Google "how to photograph fireworks", things would have turned out better. I tried using a shutter speed in the 5-8 second range, but the fireworks were too bright and blown out. Shorter shutter speeds resulted in backgrounds that were too dark, and I often missed the main "bouquet" of the firework. So I just kind of randomly experimented with various settings in manual mode and got a couple decent photos (none great). But I found a website that said to do the following, and I think it's good advice:

  1. Set your ISO on 100
  2. Set your Fstop somewhere in the range of 11 (to give you a decent depth of field)
  3. Use a wide angle lens (24mm or wider)
  4. Manually adjust your focus to infinity, or nearly infinity
  5. Use a 10 second exposure (try a few test shots to get this dialed in). The longer your exposure, the more fireworks activity you will capture in a single image.
  6. Use a tripod and the 2 second delay on your camera (so you are not touching the camera when the image is captured).
Really pretty easy. Will I remember this next year? Doubtful!
Things can get very rowdy in Huntington Beach on the Forth of July. They have gotten downright ugly in the past, and we wouldn't have braved it except we have a friend that lives right on the beach, next to the pier. Ground zero for the fireworks, plus we can park in a gated private parking area at our friend's complex (finding a parking spot in Huntington Beach on the 4th is like winning the lotto, and your chances are similar). So off we went at about 3PM (fireworks scheduled to start at 9PM), but the annual Huntington Beach parade was scheduled to end at 2PM. Local roads would reopen from 2PM to 5PM only, then close again until after the fireworks.
I love the flag flapping in the breeze on the lifeguard tower. After enjoying the beach for the afternoon, we went on a walk to the pier.
The pier was closed because they would be launching fireworks from the end in a couple hours. Things were starting to get crowded, but not as bad as I anticipated.
I guess the Pacific Ocean, blue skies, a parade, and fireworks just aren't enough for people. They also had a carnival, and it was jammed with people. Go ahead, try to find someone wearing a mask. Anyone? Anyone??
We let Lilly go on just one ride. She chose this crazy ride that looks like a flying saucer that spins around so fast it pins you to the wall. People getting off looked queasy and unstable. A couple looked like they were going to be sick. While waiting, the three adults placed bets... Would Lilly come out of this contraption scared? Crying? Happy?
My wife won... all smiles! (if you are wondering, yes she is missing her two front teeth)
Sunshine on my (his) shoulder.
It was time to head down to the beach with camera and tripod in hand. I was hoping to get a few beach photos before the fireworks started.
The complex in the center of the above photo is where our friend lives... right on the sand, and a very short walk to the pier. We've spent many happy hours here over the years.

The beach after sunset is beautiful! It's called the "blue hour". The photo above is an 8 second exposure, so these three people were staying remarkably still!
As I was taking these blue hour beach photos, I saw someone set a cylinder on the sand about 20' from me. Within a few seconds, it started spewing out fireworks! I wasn't sure if I should hit the deck, run away, or enjoy the show. I decided to get my phone out and make a video of the experience.
As an aside, fireworks are illegal on the beach (and throughout much of California). I saw signs posted stating they are illegal, with a $1000 fine. But that certainly didn't seem to be slowing anyone down. Fireworks were everywhere, and it seemed very dangerous to me. All it would take is one of the cylinder "launchers" to fall on their side to cause serious injury or worse.

Let the fireworks begin!

Beach fireworks are the best, and a shout out to Huntington Beach for putting on a really good show!! After taking a handful of photos, I thought it would be fun to rejoin my family for the fireworks finale.
On the way back to our friends complex, I noticed the lifeguards standing on their tower platform, enjoying the fireworks display. I didn't have time to set up my tripod and dial in my DSLR, so these were taken with my iPhone, and they turned out to be some of my favorites of the night!
It reinforced my belief that a fancy camera is not needed to take a great photo. Continuing my journey to get back to my family, I didn't quite make it. I got as far as the complex gate before the grand finale began. Here's a portion of it (best with volume turned up):
Another aside: We here in the US might need to re-think this whole Independence Day celebration thing. With global warming, rampant wildfires, and poor air quality, it seems a little crazy that most of the population celebrates by setting things on fire and blowing things up. I believe all personal fireworks should be outlawed and banned (gasp!). If you and your family want to see fireworks, go to one of the many city-sponsored displays. Just my two cents.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Hope your had a good 4th (if you celebrate), and thanks for stopping by!


  1. ...I tried once and they were an absolute failure! You have a lovely collection, I hope that your 4th was safe and memorable.

  2. These pics are quite good!!!

  3. Your shots are quite ok and Lilly is a beauty!😊

  4. Yeah, professional firework displays are the way to go. It sounded like a war zone where I was with all the personal fireworks people were setting off. I've never done Huntington Beach for the 4th (and my dad lives there, so I could). Too many bad stories I've heard.

  5. Lilly, I remember she was five and your trooper in the desert. So good to see these familiar sights!! Love the fire works where the earth is reddish. It never occured to us to go to the beach to see fireworks!! Although we did it in San Diego. Glad you had a spectacular 4th:)

  6. Canada Day here brings the same concerns about fireworks. I agree with you…for Canada.

  7. Great photographs!! I have learned to just use the fireworks setting on my camera and then later how to use the setting (you hold the button down for a long time).
    I'd have to agree that beach fireworks are the best.
    Some of the towns in Oklahoma had drone shows with lots of drones instead of fireworks. I would have to see but that might be more sustainable than gun powder.

  8. Dearest Peter,
    Great photos and Lily managed very well!
    Those little ones can be amazing, I witnessed them (the grands of my best friend) while in The Netherlands at a Fun Fair. For no money would I want to enter those crazy attractions...
    As for the fireworks, it is hard to imagine that with a tough economy, the USA still spends some billion US Dollars on fireworks... Never in my mind would I think about such a way of spending my/our money.
    Yes, your 2 cents make a LOT of sense!

  9. Thanks for the photography tips! I'll have to try next year. Yes, I agree personal fireworks should be banned. Most kinds are not legal here in Oregon where I live, but that doesn't stop my neighbors from shooting off all types of illegal fireworks every year. I really hate the noise and smoke. Not to mention all the pets and veterans that are traumatized.

  10. Amazing fireworks pictures. I think you did a great job!

  11. love your sunset photos and I think your fireworks are great

  12. Haha … any time your child comes out smiling and happy is a good day! Your last video of the display was fun to watch and I do understand where you're coming from in terms of personal fireworks. Another option ... laser shows can be spectacular and environmentally friendly.

  13. I agree with you about the danger of fireworks getting out of hand. As a small child I remember a 'jumping jack' landing in my mother's basket of fireworks and setting it off. There were fireworks whizzing along at ground level and I ran up the hill screaming to get away from them. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but it was definitely dangerous. I would much prefer to see all fireworks only set off in a professional display.

  14. I agree that the phone did one hell of a job! Incredible clarity. And I totally agree about personal fireworks. I remember one 4th -- probably 1980-- riding my motorcycle from visiting my uncle, aunt, and various cousins and off spring in Manhattan Beach-- then riding south on the free way while every civic entity blew of their displays--- What was something to see while riding a motorcycle on the San Diego Freeway!

  15. Incredible photo's again. Chapeau.

  16. I have never used my main camera on fireworks but have used the compact camera I have, never tried the Iphone must remember that. Good series of photo''s and I agree fireworks should be banned and only organised displays used. One day they will learn

  17. I just use my phone now. My canon sits in a drawer. Lovely photos. I am happy to hear Lilly came out of there smiling!

  18. You did very well with your iPhone. We had a clear view of the Hartford skyline, about 11 miles away. At the official end of dusk, over a dozen localities started their shows. Great to see, but much too far away for my phone. Not one of my nearly 100 shots showed more than a distant blip.

  19. Yeah, in many situations iphone photos turn out better than DSLR shots.

  20. Your iPhone pictures were definitely the better ones although your DSLR did a great job on the blue hour. The contrast between the sky and the water was so enjoyable. I don't dare go on any kind of carnival ride now because of triggering vertigo. Happy your granddaughter enjoyed that ride. As my dad would have said "Enjoy that in good health!" I know what he meant now. P.S.still waffling over which iPhone I want, a SE 3rd edition or a 13. Probably will settle on the SE3rd.

  21. that was beautiful setting for the fireworks. the photos are not bad at all :-)

  22. Cool videos. My favourite pics are the ones with the lifeguards in it.

  23. Thanks for the firework tips :-)

  24. The photos are awesome...I love the blue-orange sunset sky by the beach.
    Lilly had fun, I could tell!
    Thanks for the tip and reminder how to take proper photos. I think you did well with using both DSLR and iPhone cameras. What is important is to capture the mment.. and of course, keep safe. The videos are likewise great shots!
    ~ Ms. Donyarific

  25. As always, very beautiful photos! Yes, fireworks are difficult to photograph.

  26. La bandera parece que vuela. Me han gustado las dos últimas de los fuegos artificiales, qie te han quedado bastante bien.
    Feliz fin de semana.

  27. I hadn't thought about all the fire and smoke created by fireworks. I agree with your banning idea. Those little videos were fun to see but I think I wouldn't have survived that ride. Yikes.

  28. AWE!!! Such a gorgeous evening with a brilliant ending! Thanks so much for sharing these lovely moments with us. I love your firework images!!

  29. I keep returning to look at/admire this post. It's so alive - reminds me of "home" - makes me HAPPY. I suspect I'll return a few more times - because - it simply makes my hear happy. Thank you for all you do - Thank you for sharing with us/me. 💙

  30. Lily is adorable ~ fun time for you and your family and wonderful fireworks photos ~

    Thanks for your supportive comments about my losing Angel ~ I am lost ~ sigh.

    Wishing you good health, laughter and love in your days,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  31. Your photos are wonderful and how lucky to have a friend living in that perfect place. That scary ride is as nothing for a young lady who has climbed and hiked in amazing places all her life! ...I agree with you on needing to rethink the way we celebrate, but (same as you said about the un-masked) good luck with that. If anything, this country will probably slip backwards and celebrate with real rockets since we seem to be slipping back another couple of centuries these days.)

  32. Lilly is adorable. Glad she had fun. Considering that fireworks not only pollute but injure people and frighten both domestic and wild animals plus people with PTSD, I’d like to see them replaced by light show spectaculars. Also, this nonsense of setting them off on multiple holidays and even weddings is ridiculous.