How to photograph fireworks

Quick tips to make your Instagram shots flawless.

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Location, location, location

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If you can, go for fireworks that play out over grand architecture or water for colorful reflections. If possible, get permission to shoot from a tall building for an altered perspective. After learning the rockets’ firing positions, visit the site before the event and choose several shooting locations. On the day of the celebration, set up at a place that’s crosswind or upwind of the display. Otherwise, by the time the finale comes, you’ll be shooting through smoke.

Get more than the burst

Look for interesting buildings, trees, or people to place in the lower third of your frame. For this photo from 2015, Pete Souza used the silhouettes of Barack Obama and his daughter Malia. Don’t worry if your subjects aren’t this high-profile—adding a human element to your frame can add context to your images.

Shoot manual

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That’s manual exposure (the Bulb setting) and manual focus (set to infinity). Kill the flash—you won’t need it.

Saturate color

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If shooting film, use a super-saturated slide film such as Fujifilm’s Velvia or Kodak’s E100VS. If digital, use the High Color Saturation setting, usually found in the camera’s setup menu. Or shoot RAW, which will give you the most leeway in processing the image in a program like Adobe Lightroom or Capture One.

Don’t go too wide

Wider focal lengths can capture entire bursts, but then the bursts often appear too small in the picture. Instead, compose to include some foreground material, and don’t worry if you end up cropping out some of the airborne action. As this shot proves, cropping into a burst still leaves a lot of visual impact.

Put more than one burst on a frame

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Play with multiple exposures and long exposures on a tripod when capturing the show. These techniques will give you multiple bursts per frame.

Go ahead, experiment

Tap or jiggle the camera during exposure. Also, after you’ve captured the fireworks, turn your camera to spectators (especially kids) for awestruck facial expressions that can be just as colorful as the action on high.