How to photograph fireworks and cityscapes

Summertime means fireworks in a lot of places. National holidays like the 4th of July are an obvious event, but many places do them all summer long, like Navy Pier in Chicago (every Wednesday & Saturday night between Memorial Day and Labor Day). Let’s see how you can get some interesting cityscapes shots with fireworks. We’ll also talk about the technical side and what settings to use.

1. Find a good location

First, find out where the fireworks will shot from. Then you can start researching the location to see what cityscape views include that location. We recommend using tools like Google Maps, Street View and Google Earth. It allows you to visualize locations and make sense of the view, the line of sight, etc.

Ideally, find a view with some open space in the direction of the fireworks, so you have some room to see the show. If you can’t find a skyline/cityscape view, look for interesting architecture that could be a good foreground.

2. Shoot in manual mode

We recommend shooting in manual mode as the contrasts between the shadows, the lights of the city and the fireworks can trick your meter. The varying levels of brightness of the fireworks can result in vastly different exposures.

3. Use a small aperture

For the light streaks to look thinner and sharper, use a smaller aperture. Since you’re shooting at night, don’t go to small. f/8 to f/11 is usually a good range, but feel free to experiment!

4. Aim for a 2-3 second exposure

To get good streaks, we recommend aiming for an exposure time around 2-3 seconds. If you go too long, you’ll get too many fireworks. If you go too short, the streaks will be too small. Again, depending on the fireworks, experiment and adjust during the show. Increase your ISO if your shutter speed is too long.

5. Don’t blow out the highlights

Fireworks can be really bright and much brighter than the rest of your composition, so check your histogram on the first few images and make sure you don’t blow out the highlights.


You’re all set to photograph fireworks, so go out and get some great shots! When you’re back, share them in our Facebook Group :-)



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