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Capture Brilliant Fireworks Photos
Capture Brilliant Fireworks Photos

To take great shots of fireworks, you've got to be versed on a few things. With these short tips, learn how to select the right Scene Mode in your camera, how to adjust your camera's manual functions, or how to steady yourself for nighttime photos and create light trail effects.

Setting the scene for fireworks

Summer is known for great fireworks displays. Olympus is known for great camera scene modes. Coincidence? No way. Your first step in taking great pictures of fireworks is to simply select the Fireworks Scene Mode. The camera will then slow the shutter speed value and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).

If your camera doesn't have scene modes (i.e. the E-1, E-3 & E-5) or is able to support a high-level of manual control, set the camera to manual mode (M) and adjust the shutter speed and aperture. Setting the aperture to F8 and a shutter speed of 3 to 4 seconds should give good results. Set the ISO sensitivity to 100 or 80. And don't forget to change to MF (manual focus) and set the focusing point to infinity (∞).

Here's a rundown of common adjustments
made in the Fireworks Scene Mode:
  • Shutter speed is set to four seconds, which helps capture the streaming trails of the fireworks.
  • Sets the ISO to 100 and the f-stop to f11.
  • Sets the White Balance to 5300K
  • Sets the exposure compensation to -1.0 EV. This is a full 1-stop underexposure to keep the firework highlights from burning out.
  • Sets the color to Vivid, the Saturation to High and the Contrast to Hard, all of these changes help enhance color.
  • Sets the Sharpness to Soft, which uses minimal sharpening in anticipation of post-processing.
Creating a trail of lights with a sparkler Sparkler light trails

Olympus cameras feature a variety of ways to easily capture amazing photos of light trails. Depending on what camera model you own, try experimenting with any of the following methods:

E-System and Older PEN Models: Beginners should try using the Night Scene + Portrait mode. This Scene Mode will fire a flash to illuminate your subject - but it will also keep the shutter open long enough to capture a light trail. More advanced users can special flash modes for even more control over this effect. For more information, view this page.

E-M5, E-P5, E-PL7, E-PL5 & E-PM2 Owners: Did you know you can watch the progress of long-exposure shots during shooting? To view, choose a display interval for [Live BULB] or [Live TIME]. This makes it easier to choose when to end the exposure. If [Live TIME] is selected, the display can be refreshed by pressing the shutter button halfway during time photography.

E-M1, E-M5 Mark II, E-M10 Mark II, E-M10, PEN-F, TG-870, TG-4, or SH-2 Owners: Prepare to be amazed by our new Live Composite mode. When shooting a photo with normal bulb shooting, the overall picture may over expose and get too bright if you are not careful. Live Composite Mode, on the other hand, takes the newly bright areas only and composites them into a single image while you watch the progress on your LCD monitor. This makes it especially useful for capturing fireworks together with buildings in the foreground. Moreover, you can use your flash to emphasize a moment, object or person during the exposure, or even use a pen light or sparkler to write letters.

To learn more about Live Composite mode - including how to activate it - check out our tutorial video.


More picture-taking tips for fireworks

  • If possible, try to shoot the fireworks so that they are downwind from your position. If you are downwind of the fireworks, you may lose visibility because of the smoke.
  • It's a good idea to have a penlight handy in case you need to replace the memory card or battery in the dark.
  • Try using your camera's self timer to eliminate camera shake when manually pressing the shutter button. Using a remote shutter release can also help you avoid camera shake and blur.

Timing your shutter speed

The traditional method for shooting fireworks is to manually select shutter speed. As you might expect, longer exposure times result in longer trails and shorter exposures result in shorter trails. You can set your shutter speed to a specific duration - you can experiment with 2 seconds, 3 seconds or 4 seconds to see what happens. The key is to time the exposure with the timing of the fireworks streaks so you end up with dramatic light trails in your shots.

The alternative is to set the shutter speed to the BULB setting, if your camera is equipped with this feature. In the BULB setting, the shutter will stay open as long you have the button engaged, and will shut when you release the button.

Fireworks Fireworks Fireworks

Have a compact camera? Check out these basic tips on shooting fireworks photos and movies.

Keeping it steady
How to hold your camera

Because of the slow shutter speed required to pick up light at night, a tripod will help you get the best, blur-free fireworks photos. If you don't have a tripod handy, find another way to keep your camera steady. Try using a flat surface to place the camera. Or, when using the fireworks scene mode, brace the camera against your body as best you can to keep it as still as possible. However, this method may not produce good results in manual mode when setting the shutter speed to greater than one second.

Bracing the camera: Hold the camera still using both hands. Compose your shot and then press the shutter button half way down to lock exposure and focus. Inhale, then exhale about halfway and hold. While holding you breath, press the shutter button down completely. Then exhale completely.