How to photograph fireworks and sparklers

Halloween and Bonfire Night present some great opportunities for taking fantastic photos.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your camera, whether it’s a compact or DSLR.

For compact cameras:

Try to arrive early at the fireworks display to get the best position.

  • Don’t stand too close to where the display will happen as you want a wide scene so you can fit in the fireworks as they fly up.
  • Check if you have a ‘fireworks scene’ (go to the SCN setting on your camera and choose fireworks) setting – most compacts do.  This, however, holds the shutter open for around 3-5 seconds.
  • If you are using the fireworks setting then you will either need to have your camera on a tripod to keep it still, or on a sturdy secure surface – perhaps the roof of a car or a wall.
  • Pre-focus on the last set of fireworks (focus but don’t take the shot – keep your finger on the button so the focus is locked and press it as soon as the next firework begins (most compacts have a small delay between pressing the shutter and the photo being taken so you have to judge when to push the shutter!)
  • Repeat this as many times as possible.
  • If you don’t have a fireworks setting, then you can try to achieve a similar effect by manually setting your ISO speed (all compacts have this facility but you may need to come out of your AUTO setting to find it)
  • Set a slow ISO of around ISO 200, this will tell your camera to slow the shutter speed down so it can take the shots of the fireworks – again your camera will need to be very still – it won’t work by being hand held.

Capture those fireworks!

Compact or DSLR
It is better to have a tripod on these occasions to avoid any camera shake. Plus you'll get more room!!


Always great for being creative
Have fun! Write your name, a love heart, a star anything!! A small pen torch could also be used instead of a sparkler.


For DSLR cameras

  • You will need a good position, a wide angled lens (open to it’s widest – don’t zoom in) set to manual focus – MF (the kit lens is fine) and a tripod, black card (about A5 size).
  • Set your camera to manual (M) set the ISO to 200.
  • Under expose your shot by 2/3rds of a stop.
  • Set your aperture to around f8 or f16.
  • Set the shutter speed to “30 (for 30 seconds – NOT 1/30).
  • To find this shutter speed, scroll through your shutter speed settings until you get to the slowest one possible.
  • If you see B this means you will need a shutter release cable so don’t set B if you don’t have one.
  • If you are using the “30 secs then you won’t need a remote release cable as the camera will close the shutter on its own.
  • Aim and pre-focus on where you think a good part of the display will be, switch your cameras focus to manual.
  • Get ready with your black card.
  • Press the shutter to get your first shot.
  • In between fireworks gently but quickly place the black card over the front of the lens (try not to move your camera). This stops too much light being absorbed by your sensor and ruining the shot and effectively gives you a ‘multi exposure’.
  • Simply move the card away from the lens for the next shot.
  • When you have 2 or 3 firework explosions on your shot, start all over again.
  • You can use this setting to take a photo of someone waving a sparkler around too – but you won’t need the black card.

Don’t just photograph the fireworks, look around you at the people silhouetted by the light of the bonfire or faces lit up by glow sticks and or the light of the stalls.

  • For the silhouettes, take an exposure reading from the light of the fire – this shot could be hand-held.
  • Do you remember trying to write your name backwards with sparklers to get it right in the camera?
  • Follow the tripod/manual setting as above.
  • Set the camera to shutter speed of 30 seconds which should be long enough and ‘write’ away!