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The University of Alabama

UA Matters: Tips to Ensure Your Fireworks Photos Explode

Photo by Kent Gidley

Photo by Kent Gidley

Fireworks displays are not only beautiful to watch but exciting to capture in print. The University of Alabama’s Kent Gidley will have you shooting pictures like a pro this Fourth of July with these simple tips for capturing great fireworks.

  • First, make sure you have the items you need to accomplish your goal — DSLR camera (digital camera with interchangeable lens and manual settings); wide-angle lens (my preference is a 16-35); tripod; cable release; and camera disc.
  • Second, pick a place that is dark, and ensure sure you know the location of your camera screen’s LIGHT button in case you need to review your settings.
  • Next, place the lens on the camera, the camera on the tripod and angle your camera toward the show. Ensure everything is secure. Connect the cable release.
  • Go to the mode setting on the camera, and place your camera on bulb. This allows you to time your picture for the time it takes for the burst to finish.
  • Set your focus to infinity. The fireworks should be high enough for the infinity setting to capture the burst sharply while keeping everything in the foreground in focus.
  • Select your aperture. For me, I like F11 or F16. It is ok to use F8, but the brighter the burst, the higher the needed aperture. I find that F8 is a little too open or bright, and F11 comes closer to capturing the true colors of the burst.
Kent Gidley

Kent Gidley

Now, you are ready for the fireworks to begin. As each firework takes flight, it leaves a small trail of light behind as it travels. When you see it rise, slowly take the picture and keep holding the button with your finger or by using the cable release as it rises. When it reaches its maximum height it explodes, and you should continue holding down the button.

After the burst has been completed, remove your finger from the camera, and prepare to repeat your action. The only time you will need to change your settings is for the grand finale. If you have chosen F11, change to F16 or even F22. The finale will have more burst at once, making for a brighter display. This necessitates a higher F-stop.

Caution: If you do not have a cable release, make sure not to move the camera when pushing the button with your finger. Movement can lead to motion blur during the action. Also, you will need to hold down the button until each burst is completed, so the camera can capture the full burst.

When the show is over, you should have a great celebration of light.

Gidley is director of Athletic Photography.



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UA Matters is a weekly posting that offers information and tips on consumer issues facing Alabamians. The information is available to reprint in your publication free of charge. Also, access to subject matter experts is available upon request. For more information, contact Kim Eaton at 205/348-8325 or>.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.