The One Rule to Keep In Mind When Photographing Fireworks

Yesterday I attempted to photograph the New Year’s fireworks in Singapore. I did my homework, found a good spot on the bridge, and had my finger ready to trigger the shutter. The technical rules are quite straight forward:

  1. Get a DSLR
  2. Must have a (good) tripod
  3. Aperture at f 11-16
  4. Mode = “B” (bulb)
  5. ISO = 100
  6. Shutter speed around 10 seconds (you’ll need to test it yourself)
  7. Get a good location

These are the technical rules, which are quite easy to follow. Now here is the one rule to keep in mind when photographing fireworks: you only have one shot to get a good photo, and it must be at the first round of fireworks. Why? Because when the smoke from the fireworks covers the skyline (skyscrapers, sky, bridges, etc), it will ruin the composition of the photo. After all, fireworks by themselves are just fireworks with no context. However, if you add some familiar landmarks in the background (and sometimes in the foreground as well), you’ll end up with a beautiful photo.

Here are two examples that illustrate what I mean:

First Set of Fireworks

Fireworks Singapore
First set of fireworks without the smoke

In this photo you can clearly see the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the background. This gives context to the photo, and allow the viewer to recognize the area.

Third Set Fireworks

Fireworks Singapore
Third set of fireworks – lots of smoke

This photo was taken from the same spot, however, due to the massive amount of smoke from the previous round of fireworks the sky is now full of smoke, which makes the area look like a war zone. The Marina Bay Sands hotel is nowhere to be seen, which takes away the context in the photo.

I hope you keep it in mind next time you photograph fireworks.

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