Taking Fireworks Photos is not Always a Picnic

Yesterday I showed you a couple of fireworks shots from the 4th of July.  What I didn’t show were all the shots that didn’t come out. It wasn’t for lack of preparation but sometimes there are things that are just beyond control. My intention was to get a great shot of the fireworks above the Lincoln, Washington, and Capital all lined up. I got that shot before the fireworks started but then, not long after the first volley, the smoke that hung in the humid air had all but obscured the Capital dome.

Then there was the whole exposure issue. Getting a great exposure of the buildings was easy, that is until the fireworks started up, and then my exposures were getting blown out by the bright bursts. If I kept my exposure long enough to capture the buildings, the fireworks were completely blown out. When I changed to get a good fireworks shot, the monuments were way underexposed. I finally found an exposure that met in the middle and let me get some decent shots but only during the more mellow of the fireworks. My final exposure setting was f/11 for 2 seconds at ISO 100. I used my Canon T3i with an 18-200mm lens, which was set to about 110mm.

Some of my shots were completely blown out

Sometimes I got the fireworks but lost the monuments

But sometimes you get lucky (with a little help from Photoshop)


  1. Arthur Agin says:


    I’ve had the same problem in the past with underexposing the monuments. If you didn’t move the tripod you can try layering a shot with no fireworks on top and blend it. Sometimes composites are the best solution.

    Also, check out the Capital Weather Gang’s photos at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/the-2011-washington-fireworks-show/2011/07/05/gIQA1WIe0H_blog.html?wprss=capital-weather-gang. I think they were on Roosevelt Island.


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