Taking great photographs of fireworks is surprisingly easy. All you need is a camera with manual control, (a DSLR is preferred) a lens with a good zoom range, a tripod and a good sense of timing.
How to shoot fireworks:
First, put your camera on a tripod. You need slow shutter speeds to get those gorgeous explosions and colorful light trails, so you’ll want to make sure your camera is rock steady. A good ballhead is recommended for maximum flexibility. You may need to move your camera in any direction to get the framing you want.
Consider getting a remote trigger for your camera. Besides being able to reduce vibration by not touching the camera when activating the shutter, you need to see the pattern and trajectory of the rockets, and your field of view is extremely limited if you’re looking through a tiny viewfinder. You need to be able to see and follow the big picture as the action unfolds. For most of this shoot, you’ll be relying heavily on the shots displayed on the LCD display on the back of your camera after you take them.
A lens with a good zoom range is recommended. You need 200mm or better to zoom in and get tight shots of the flares and trails, but if you’re looking for shots of the fireworks display with prominent features in the foreground, like city lights, monuments or iconic structures, you need to go wider, perhaps to 18mm or 24mm.
Set your camera to Manual mode for maximum control. You need some good depth of field so you can get as much in focus as possible. An aperture of around f/11 should do it. Set your shutter speed to 3 or 4 seconds. Take a few test shots and adjust the speed as necessary to avoid overexposure while getting the effect you’re looking for. Try to keep your ISO low to avoid noise. Turn off the autofocus so the lens doesn’t “hunt” for something to focus on, or you’ll miss a lot of the best shots. Manually set your focus to infinity for best results.
The rest is all about positioning and timing. You need to anticipate where the rockets are going to explode and when to activate the shutter to get the flares and trails. Check your LCD constantly to make sure you’re getting the composition and exposure you’re looking for. Fireworks displays usually have a few “sweet spots” where most of the explosions happen. Make minor adjustments to your camera’s position on the tripod until you’re happy with what you see on the viewer.
My preference is to shoot in “Bulb” mode, where you can hold the shutter open manually for as long as you want. (All the more reason to have a remote control.) This gives you full control over your timing. Press just before the rockets explode, and release after the light trails fade. Again, take test shots and adjust as necessary.