Happy Wednesday, friends!

If you want to know how to photograph fireworks at a wedding, today’s post is for you! As a wedding photographer, certain parts of the day aren’t super stressful, because they’re predictable. You do them at every wedding. You can practice them at home. Like ring shots, for example. Here’s a post on how to nail those if you’re curious. The stressful parts of a wedding day are the wildcards, the things you a) don’t do very often, and therefore b) can’t practice in advance. It’s literally on-the-job training.

Other than those two factors, here’s what makes firework shots on a wedding day challenging:

1. You don’t always know what directions the fireworks are coming from until they start going off.

2. You don’t know if they’re going to be far off in the distance or right over the bride and groom’s head.

3. It’s dark. Thus, focusing can be tough.

4. You need off-camera flash, and that’s scary for a lot of newer photographers. We totally get it, by the way. That was us, too!

5. Time. Is. Limited. You only have a few minutes and there are no re-dos.

So, to be as helpful as possible, we’re going to tell you exactly how we do firework shots at weddings. That way, the next time you see the “f” word on a wedding day timeline, you’ll know exactly what to do!

Step 1: Go Outside Early

If we know that fireworks are happening at 9:30 p.m., we’ll sneak out of the ballroom five minutes early with our bride and groom. Why? For a few reasons. One, we like to get them away from where all the people are going to be standing, because to nail the shot, we need just them and the fireworks in the picture, not guests. Plus, since we don’t know where the fireworks will be coming from, having a WIDE perimeter around them is necessary in case we need to turn them in a different direction. Second, it gives us a chance to test our settings and give them posing instructions before it gets too loud and chaotic.

Step 2: Bring the Right Gear

For gear, we bring a few things with us. First, we like our Canon 24-70mm lens, because we don’t have time to change lenses once the fireworks get going, and this allows us to stay in one place once we start shooting, just zooming in and out to get what we want. Second, we have a Canon 600 Ex-Rt Speedlite on-camera controlling another Canon Ex-Rt Speedlite off-camera. The on-camera flash is on, but we don’t have the flash firing. It’s just to control the off-camera flash. Amy holds the off-camera flash inside a 24×24 soft box. It doesn’t have to be fancy. We use this Lastolite one that we bought our first year in business, and it totally does the trick.

Step 3: Test Your Settings

Since your couple is out there with you a few minutes early, you can test your settings on them to make sure your exposure is just right. That way, once the fireworks begin, all of you have to worry about is your focus and composition. For our camera settings, we’re thinking about a few things. First, we want to keep our ISO somewhat high so that we can keep our flash power low. Why?

The slower the shutter, the more the fireworks will streak

Because our Speedlites can only fire so many times per minute at high power before they have to recycle. And, remember, time is not our friend during firework photos. On our Canon 5D Mark III bodies, we feel like 1600 ISO is totally acceptable. That ISO, contend with shooting at a wide aperture (f/2.8), we’re letting in enough light that our flash power can be about 1/16 on manual mode (as a starting place). We also use either flash or auto white balance with no filters. You could use filters, Kelvin or set a custom white balance, but we don’t. Flash or auto white balance does fine for us. With all of these settings, you might have to tweak them a little bit here
and there, but that should at least give you a place to start! Now, you might’ve noticed that we haven’t talked about shutter speed yet. That’s because everything above affects the exposure on the couple. Shutter speed does not affect exposure when using flash. It only affects the ambient light. In this case, since it’s pitch black outside, the only ambient light will be coming from the fireworks. Don’t forget: The slower the shutter, the more the fireworks will streak and, well, look like actual fireworks. If you’re shooting at 1/200 of a second, the shutter’s not open long enough to absorb the streaks of light. For that reason, we like ours at around 1/10 – 1/25 of a second.

Step 4: Position Yourself & Pose Your Couple

Once you’ve dialed in your exposure, you have to know where you’re going to be and what your couple is going to do. In our experience, fireworks usually fire so high that we have to be on our back a few feet directly behind the couple at 24 – 35mm to get them and the full fireworks in the shot. Quick Tip: Shoot portrait not landscape.

Shoot portrait not landscape

Portrait will give you the ability to get the couple and the fireworks in the frame. It’s almost impossible in landscape mode because the top of the frame isn’t tall enough. Plus, the sides are mostly black. Portrait allows you to fill the frame with the two things you want to see: people and fireworks. Also, ask your couple to turn their backs to you, facing the fireworks, with their arms around each other.
Then, instruct them to alternate between resting their heads together and looking up at the show, and kissing (and counting to ten) sometimes, too. You can yell these out when the fireworks start, too, but just in case they can’t hear you, it’s good to talk about it in advance, and it helps not kill the mood! Just tell them to be as still as possible to minimize the “ghosting” effect from the slow shutter.

Fireworks_0002

Step 5: Get the Shot

Once the fireworks start, you basically have three things you need to do — and your assistant has one things to do. For your assistant, ask them to stand about 45 degrees from the couple and hold the soft box at chest height. a light stand will work as well, but it helps to have someone manning the light.

9 times out of 10, the best images will come from the grande finale

For the main shooter, first, make sure that your composure has the couple in the center bottom third of the frame, or off to the bottom left or right, with the fireworks up above. Second, the easiest place to focus is where there’s contrast. That’s usually where the white shirts meets the groom’s suspenders, or where his white shirt meets the collar of his suit. Since you’ll be shooting at such a wide foal length (f/2.8) from such close distance, everything should be in pretty solid
focus. Third, don’t fire while the firework is going up. There’s not enough ambient light from the flames yet. Wait until right when it goes off, then fire a round of fast shots. Then wait. Then repeat. Final Tip: 9 times out of 10, the best images will come from the grande finale, since there will be dozens of fireworks going off at once instead of just a few, so use the first few minutes to make sure your settings, focus and composition are all right. Then you’ll be confident when the big moment comes.

Phew! That was a lot of information, friends! Thanks for sticking with us until the end, and good luck the next time you see the “f word” on a wedding day timeline. We’ll be cheering for you!

Alisa

3 comments
filed in: Education

    Elizabeth

    Thanks, guys!!

    Alex

    What if you only have a Nikon DX3100 SLR with built in flash and no assistant? :) Thank you in advance.

    Alex

    Oh, and I'll be on a yacht. They're not too worried since they asked their bro/in-law to photograph their wedding. ;)