One really common question that I seen asked by wedding photographers is how to photograph fireworks at a wedding. Fireworks at weddings are quite rare, so most wedding photographers don’t have a lot of experience with them. They can be really tricky to photograph and get right, and there aren’t many opportunities to practice!
If you’re looking for me to tell you what the correct exposure is- I can’t. The fact is there are too many variables when it comes to fireworks. Here are some lessons that I’ve learned on how to photograph them…
- Find out as much as you can in advance. How long will the fireworks be? Where will they be going off from? What’s the distance between the fireworks and the couple? How much ambient light is going to be on your couple (if you want them in the frame). All of this information is incredibly useful for your approach. If the venue has a wedding coordinator, they may be the best ones to know.
- Using that information, make a decision on your frame and composition. Aim for just getting “the shot” and then move on from there only once you have time. Firework displays at weddings can be surprisingly short in comparison to most big displays that we see at large events. That coupled with the quick lighting changes means that you simply might not have the time to try every idea that you have. Having a second shooter here can be really useful. If you’re more of a “hands on” photographer, don’t be afraid to move the couple to where you want them in the frame for your best chances.
- Keep your lighting ideas simple at first until you feel like you’ve mastered fireworks. Many firework displays at weddings are only a couple of minutes in length. I’ve also found that every firework display that I’ve photographed has been unpredictable in one way or another, so keeping things quick and simple will be your best bet for nailing the shot. Considering just using one flash or one LED if you do opt for additional lighting.
- Your exposure is going to change dramatically depending on what stage the firework is going off. It’s really bright at the height of the firework, and then completely dark the rest of the time. Naturally the most drama is going to be during the height of the firework, so meter to balance for the brightest portion of the fireworks when you have the most drama and contrast in the scene. Shoot a lot of frames and consider bracketing exposures.
- Ditch the tripod! The first couple of times I photographed fireworks I found the tripod to be more of a hinderance than a help. Hand holding the camera with a steady hand and a wide lens works best for me. Being able to handhold the camera means that I can make easy adjustments to my composition depending on where the fireworks are going off, and then quickly move on to grab other frames of the scene.
Since today is New Years Eve, this may be the perfect chance to go out and practice! If you do head out, your best bet is to be closer to fireworks rather than further away, as this will give you the best simulation of what it will be like at a wedding. Better yet, if you can second shoot for another photographer who will be photographing fireworks, do it! Practice makes perfect when it comes to these types of shots.