The Fourth of July is a day of celebration to many Americans. It is also an opportunity for some great firework photos. The fireworks up at South Lake Tahoe has been described by American Pyrotechnics Association as one of the top five displays in the country. And since I live only an hour away from the beautiful Lake Tahoe, it is only logical that I head up there and photograph the fireworks.

Because I was going with others and would be carrying extra stuff, I reduced my loadout to just the camera and one lens. My first choice of lens would have been the trusty Nikkor 18-200 mm VR, but unfortunately it’s got fungus in it and had to be sent in for some cleaning. I ended up bringing my Nikon 35 mm lens, which is not the most ideal lens for photographing fireworks. Aside from the camera and the lens, I also brought along the tripod and shutter remote for the expected long exposure shots.

We arrived at Nevada Beach just when the sky began to turn dark. The beach is flat with no high grounds that offer commanding view of the lake, so I found a relative empty spot on the beach and setup my tripod, surveyed the surroundings and came up with some composition ideas. It was pretty wild on the beach; people were all over the place, some even started bonfires and sat around to sing, although they were quickly told by the park rangers to put them out. Because of the number of people there, I had to incorporate them in the shots somehow while doing my best not to block anyone’s view.

The show started around 9:45 PM, and it was a spectacular one. The fireworks were launched a few miles away from where I was, possibly from a barge on the lake. With the national anthem and other patriotic songs playing in the background, the show went on for almost 30 minutes, during which I kept adjusting the camera to capture the fireworks. In the end, I took dozens of photos, and there were a handful of them I like.
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As I edited the photos and reviewed the day’s activities, I noted down a few things I learned regarding photographing fireworks and I’m listing them below. Some of them may also apply to other subjects:

  1. Do Your Research – Before heading out, you should at least know where the fireworks are going to be launched from, the exact starting time and the locations with the best view. You should arrive early, survey the area, decide how you are going to compose the photos and pick out the spot that allows you to take the shot you want.
  2. Choose Your Gears Wisely – Ideally you want a wide angle lens that allows you to capture the fireworks in their entirety, but if you are too far out, a zoom lens may be more suitable so you can quickly adjust based on how far away you are from the fireworks.
  3. Incorporate What You Can’t Remove – We want to have a clear view of the fireworks, but sometimes it’s just not possible to find a spot with nothing getting in the way. If that is the case, you’ll have to find a way to incorporate those objects in your composition. Consider using them as the foreground elements or the “frame” around your objects.
  4. Saturation and Exposure – Firework photos are amazing enough without any editing, but you can enhance them even further by bringing up the saturation. You should also adjust the level of exposure so the photos are just bright enough to show the fireworks clearly.

Have you try to take firework photos? Do you have any tips or tricks for photographing fireworks? Please share you thoughts by leaving comments below.