Capturing the Magic of The 4th of July With Your Family

Ready to capture the magic of fireworks this Fourth of July? So am I!! The Fourth of July is one of my favorite days of the year – time with the family, the food, the fun, and of course the fireworks!

I’ve had people ask how I capture the sparkler and fireworks photos we create over the years, so I thought this would be a fun, low tech as possible, tutorial to share. 

Images taken with 50mm lens, 400 ISO, f/16, 10 sec exposure time.

You don’t have to be a professional to capture the beauty of low light photography with some tools, tips, and tricks I’ll describe for you.

What you’ll need:

  • A camera you can have manual control over the settings
  • A wide angle lens to capture as much of the scene as possible, 35mm or smaller works best but you can get nice results with up to a 50mm lens.
  • A tripod (if you don’t have one – a table or a book & a towel to prop your camera on)
  • On camera timer or a remote to release the shutter, if you don’t have this option it’s not a deal breaker (I’ll explain in a bit)
  • Evening sky with fireworks!
  • That’s it!

Photography is the art of painting with light – so we have to make sure we get enough light to the sensor. The most important thing to remember about taking photos at night is that the camera needs to be super still or your image will be blurry, see the images below to see the difference in using a tripod or not. It can still be a creative photograph but hand shake shows in longer exposures.

In the first image I used a tripod & hand held the camera in the second.
Both images were taken using 24mm lens, ISO 100, f/11, 2 sec exposure.

Since will be using a long shutter (exposure time) to let in as much light as we need to take the photograph. Having a tripod (or a table/ book and a rolled up towel to prop your lens) keeps the camera steady while this is happening, so your photos are crisp & clear.

Here’s How to Set Your Camera:

  • Switch your camera to Manual mode so you have full control over the exposure settings.
  • Set your ISO to a low number (around 100 or 200) to reduce the grainy look of the image (this is called noise)
  • Use the the smallest aperture size (which is thelargest number F/stop your lens has, like f/8, f/11, f/16) This way the fireworks and your surroundings will be in focus.
  • Choose a long shutter speed, start between 2 to 10 seconds( 2” – 10”), to capture the fun trails of light created by the fireworks.
  • On your lens there will be a switch for manual focus, set your lens to manual focus and focus at infinity ∞ to keep the whole frame sharp.
  • If you have a remote for your camera, use that to press the shutter so there is no possible camera shake. Or if you have a timer on your camera use a 2 sec delay. If you don’t have any of this, just press the shutter gently and you’ll still get good results.

Ready for more advanced ideas?

These are a bit more advanced but here are the details, if you want to try it out: 135mm lens, ISO 250, f/2, 1/30 sec.

Think about your composition and how you frame your photograph. You can include your surroundings and/ or the people who are with you. Put your camera on a book on the ground behind your people, set your focus on the sky or the outline of your family and prop the lens with a rolled up towel.

Adjust exposure and colors: Use post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to fine-tune exposure, enhance colors, and bring out the vibrancy of the fireworks.

You can use the same settings (just play with the timing of the shutter speed) to do some sparkler writing, like our examples from years past. (Patient subjects are a must with this technique 😅) But most importantly – play with your settings and see what fun things you can create while making memories with your family.