10 tips for taking awesome July 4th fireworks photos in Hawaii…or anywhere!

If you plan to be in Hawaii for July 4th this year, then a) I am very jealous, and b) I want to pass on some tips to help you take the best fireworks photos ever!

While these tips are aimed at those travelers that plan to be on Oahu for the Honolulu/Waikiki fireworks celebrations, you can use them wherever you see fireworks–or whenever, such as New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Follow these tips and you could end up grabbing photographs like the one opposite.

Ready? Here we go!

1. Bring a tripod

You’re going to need a sturdy tripod, so that you can set your camera to take your photo over a period of a second or two. While you can still take 4th of July fireworks without a tripod, you won’t be able to achieve the “streaming” effect that many of us ooh and aah over. If you can’t bring a tripod, find a wall or table you can rest your camera on. You don’t need anything big, or expensive. Compact camera users can buy this small, simple tripod for less than $15!

2. Use a remote or self-timer

This is probably the second most important tip. You’re placing your camera on a tripod to avoid any unnecessary shaking. Shaking is bad–your July 4th fireworks will look blurry–and even the simple act of pushing down on your camera’s shutter can create unwanted shaking. So, use a remote control to fire your camera’s shutter, of the easier option is to just set your camera to its self-timer, so that you are not touching the camera when it takes that stunning fireworks shot. Just keep in mind, if you use a timer, you’ll have to press it a few seconds before the firework reaches its pinnacle.

3. Find the best location

You should already know the best place to watch your July 4th fireworks on Oahu (or Maui, Kauai, and the Hawaii, the Big Island). Before it gets dark, scope out the best place to take your fireworks photos from. Try to find a place that will be away from the crowds–you don’t want pictures of fireworks coming out of someone’s head–and with an unobstructed view of the skyline.

4. Use manual focus

DSLR users, you’ll want to switch off auto focus and use manual focusing. Auto focus will be horrible as your camera vanely tries to find something in the dark to focus on. Use manual focus and set it to focus on the horizon or “infinity focus.” For compact camera users, you should look for a setting on your camera for “Landscape” photos, or better yet, “Fireworks.”

5. Set a long shutter speed

If you’re using a compact camera–and have selected “Fireworks” from your scene modes you’re good to go. For DSLR users, be sure to set your camera’s shutter to 1-3 seconds. This will keep your shutter open long enough to capture the start and finish of the firework. That’s how you get the effect of a bursting firework with a pretty tail. ;-) Don’t be afraid to experiment some. Try 5-6 seconds and see if you can capture more than one firework in the same shot.

6. Set the lowest ISO

If your camera allows you to change your ISO setting, then set it to the lowest it will go. ISO 100 (or 50) is desired. You will be shooting over a period of 1 or 2 seconds, so you will have plenty of light hitting the sensor. If you leave your ISO at, say, 1600–which is easy to do if you’ve been taking other night time photos–you’ll find your fireworks shots will have lots of unwanted noise and grain.

7. Set your aperture

This is another tip for DSLR users. Set your aperture to f/11 or greater. Somewhere between f/11 and f/16 should do the trick. This will not only reduce the amount of ambient light that enters your camera’s sensor, but will also make your fireworks look sharp–even if you didn’t quite get your manual focus correctly set to infinity.

8. Turn off your flash

The flash on your camera is not going to make the fireworks look any brighter. Sorry. Turn it off. The only reason why you would want your flash on for a fireworks shot is if there is something REALLY interesting in the foreground that you wish to capture along with your fireworks. Keep in mind, anything more than 6 feet away is not going to be lit up by your flash.

9. Remove UV filters

If you’re using a compact camera, you can skip this tip. If you’re taking your fireworks photos with a DSLR, make sure you have removed any filter you keep on your lenses. I’ve found that even a clear UV filter can create ghosting and green spots when shooting fireworks at night. Remove it and simply remember to put it back on when the fireworks are over.

10. Don’t forget to enjoy them!

Last, but not least, don’t forget to enjoy your July 4th fireworks while in Hawaii! Shoot a few, watch a few. Don’t miss out on enjoying the actual celebration. I find that, once I have my camera settings perfect, I can just hit the remote shutter every few seconds while not taking my eyes of the actual fireworks display.

I hope these 4th of July fireworks tips help you take your best fireworks photos ever! Don’t forgot to submit your best fireworks photos for consideration for Aloha Friday Photo! ;-)


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About Andy

Andy Beal provides the photos, videos and technical support for Go Visit Hawaii--as well as the occasional post or two. He's also a keen ukulele player. Connect on Google+

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