There’ll be fireworks!

It’s that time of year again when firework displays are to be seen (and heard!) all across the county. Kilmaurs Photographic Club offers our top tips for how you can get the best out of your Bonfire Night images.

3 Kay Park display - image by Bill Stitt
Kay Park display, captured by club president Bill Stitt

Love them or think they are an anti-social nuisance, one thing is for sure; firework events offer a wealth of photo opportunities. And like in most things to do with cameras, there are some tricks and tips you can do to make your images into stunning photos.

It’s all about the movement

2 Kay Park - image by Bill Stitt
Bill’s second image of the Kay Park display

Fireworks displays are all about the colours, movement and contrast between light and dark and a fireworks display gives photographers a chance to get creative. By using good photographic techniques such as long exposures to capture the fireworks’ motion, you can come up with some very stunning images.

Composing the shot can give you a challenge as you have to first, predict when and where the fireworks will appear, and then allow space for the showers of light to cascade outwards and downwards. If you go in too close up you may end up with the shot too tightly framed and sections of the trails will get cut off.  Too wide, on the other hand, and there will be loads of empty space and this loses the impact of your fireworks.


A good tip is to use your early shots as practices so you get an idea of how far the fireworks are spreading and how long it takes to do so. A full burst actually takes longer than you’d expect, which is something we will come back to. Also remember that many cameras have special settings for taking fireworks so that might be a good start point for you.


Here are our top tips for capturing superb images:

1. Use a tripod and a camera remote shutter

6 Cromer Beach Jennie Sinclair
Fireworks over Cromer beach as shot by guest member Jennie Sinclair

To capture the full burst of the firework without having any shake, it is important to keep the camera as steady as you possibly can. Some people are very good at hand holding but for most of us using a takes the stress out of the situation. Similarly a remote shutter further reduces the shake, especially at that vital point of clicking.

 2. Focus, ISO and Shutter speed

It is recommended that you use your camera’s manual settings rather than automatic ones as this gives you more control over your shots.  This is especially true of focus, ISO and shutter speed. Many photographers recommend ditching the auto function  and setting up your focus manually to infinity for shots of fireworks in the sky. If you want to take shots including the foreground, then an idea is to shine a torch on someone or something a third of the way into the shot and set your focus using that.  In either event use manual focus as that way the camera won’t be trying to alter its focus during the shot as would happen on auto.

A lower ISO will reduce the ‘noise’ in your photo and will help you get clearer, crisper photos of the fireworks.   An ISO of around 100 or 200 should work, but have a play around with your camera’s settings and see what works for you!

4 Sparklers in the garden Bob F
Sparklers in the garden. Club member, Bob Fergus catches a great image of small fireworks

Many beginner photographers make the mistake of thinking that the shot must be taken quickly. If you do this you will not get the full burst trails and will end up often with small blobs of light. We would recommend that you spend some time looking at fireworks as they explode and take a rough timing of how long it is from the first explosion to when the light trails are at their fullest extent.  You will be surprised just how long it takes.

A good rule of thumb is to have a shutter speed of between 2 seconds and 10 seconds. With a shorter shutter speed it takes extremely good timing to press a fraction of a second before the firework explodes, but it’s great for capturing big fireworks displays when there are multiple fireworks exploding in quick succession. When using longer shutter speeds, such as 10 seconds or more, it’s possible to capture the firework trail as it streams down or explodes outwards. The longer the shutter speed, the more of the fireworks’ movements you will capture.

  1. Get your best shots at the start

As the evening goes on, the bonfire and the firework display will release lots of smoke into the sky, creating a cloudy, hazy effect.  If you want clear, crisp photos it is advisable to get your photos as soon as the display starts. This allows you take advantage of the clear night sky and see the fireworks in all their glory!  If, however, you want to concentrate on the people at the event, then a smoky ambience may be a good thing.

  1. Give the fireworks a context

Strange as it sounds, images of single fireworks on their own can look a bit uninteresting. Giving them a sense of scale and some context is a great way to elevate a shot from the merely pretty to the absolutely spectacular. Try timing your shot to illuminate an individual, a small group or a full crowd.  Or try to include something in the picture like a building – an image of a colourful firework is one thing, but an image of a colourful firework over a local landmark such as a castle or town or cityscape is a shoe-in for a winner.   

  1. People make pictures

As we suggested in the last tip, firework displays are also about the people. Images of delight on the face of a child as they look up at the sky are priceless.   People in the photo can be a main point of interest in the photo or they can be part of a blurred background to give an impression of busyness and fun.   Consider getting down to ground level and shooting low to give the impression of looking up through the group or crowd with the fireworks in the sky above.  Use a smaller aperture (higher f-stop – maybe around f8 – f11)  for this so that foreground and background are both in focus.

5 Jennie Sinclair's Cromer Beach New Year display_
Cromer beach display by Jennie Sinclair

If taking your images at an event with a bonfire, bear in mind that it will produce a bright orange glow. This can make an absolutely stunning backdrop, and a smoky atmosphere can significantly add to that.  There is also a lot of scope to create silhouettes of your subjects with the beautiful bonfire glow in the background.  Use a wide aperture (low f-stop) and zoom in on people in front of the bonfire. That way you will blur out the bonfire in the background and the light from it will throw your subjects into silhouette. If you are asking your subject to pose, obviously make sure they are not too close to the bonfire as these fires really do throw off a lot of heat.

  1. Limit your use of Flash

While flash can come in handy for getting pictures of your kids’ beaming faces during fireworks and bonfires, it’s best to let more light into your photos by using a large aperture.

Using a large aperture (low f-stop) lets more light into your lens without the need for a backlight or flash, which can come in handy with night-time photography. But bear in mind that a low f-stop also causes the background to blur.

We hope these tips will help you capture stunning images. We recommend that you take your shots at a properly organised display. Do remember that fireworks are powerful explosives so please don’t take unnecessary risks or place yourself and/or your subjects in any danger.  Please also take extra care if you are thinking about taking photos of your dog or other pets at these events; a sudden bang from a firework could easily spook them with potentially disastrous consequences. The safety of yourself and your subjects comes way before the perfect photograph.

And above all, enjoy your firework photoshoot.


Next Meeting

Our next meeting (Monday 5th November) will be the eagerly anticipated results from the club’s 1st Open competition.  All eyes will be on judge Roy Smith as he delivers his feedback and scores.  This meeting is open to visitors and potential new members.

If you would like to come along to this or any Kilmaurs Photographic Club meeting, these are held on Monday evenings in the Masonic Halls, Kilmaurs. Visitors and prospective new members are most welcome. The evenings start at 7.30pm and end around 9.45pm.

If you want to see what else the club does, the syllabus for the season can be seen on the club website