Photographing fireworks all wrong

Taking photos of fireworks without a tripod and using a semi-auto mode. Oh my. 😲

Tim Wells


Photographing fireworks all wrong. Image by author.

Where I am located, around this time of year there is a big event called the Ekka. It’s a festival sort of thing with rides and shows and it’s a great opportunity to rub elbows with hundreds of thousands of other people all squished into the location as well as pick up untold germs. I’d say it’s great but I’ve never been and don’t intend to.

What it does do is to cause the areas around the place to also put on smaller events similar to it with rides and entertainment and so in. Including, most of the time, fireworks displays.

So, that’s an opportunity to go out and take photos of the fireworks displays in all the wrong ways.

I’m sure there would be some that will cringe at the idea of using a camera in a semi-auto mode, with auto ISO, a 50mm prime lens and handheld to take photos of fireworks. I cringed at the idea and I was the one doing it.

Fireworks photos, 50mm prime lens, all hand held, all in a semi-auto mode and all using auto ISO. ISO 3600, 12800 and 7200

I’ve got my auto ISO settings set to allow any ISO up to 12,800 (highest native ISO for my Nikon D750 dinosaur) and favoring a fast shutter speed. It’s also worth noting that I had the camera in “burst” mode shooting at the fastest FPS it can.

Many would tell you that you need a tripod in order to take photos of fireworks, and most of those would also suggest you shoot in manual mode. All of which is just fine advice if you happen to have a tripod and want to shoot manual. If you’re looking for long exposures then you’ll also want to use a tripod if you can. It can be done without though if you can rest the camera on a small bag or a wall or something.

Don’t let not having “the right” gear stop you from giving something a go.

Not great, but both of these were shot handheld on a 50mm prime at ISO 12,800.

Of course, I need to confess that this works in part due to the fantastic high ISO capabilities of my D750. Pushing my old APS-C Nikon D7100 to higher ISO like this always resulted in images that couldn’t be saved even with the best post processing software.

However, most modern cameras, even many of the smaller sensor cameras these days have pretty good high ISO capabilities I believe. Setting sensible defaults for the auto ISO settings and making use of the environment or other equipment to help stabilise the camera for longer shutters and lower ISO images can result in alright photos even if it’s not the “right” way of doing it.

In my mind, the “right” way, is any way that gets the result you want. So don’t use lack of gear as an excuse not to give something a try.

If all else fails… buy a Nikon D750. 😉



Tim Wells

Self taught software developer and photographer.