Getting Started with Fireworks Photography

Ask most families what they look forward to in the run up to Christmas and most will answer bonfire night and the fireworks. Ask any photographer what they want to take pictures of during the winter months and they will probably say the same. While everyone loves the food, bonfires, and smell of the fireworks, it is what happens after the sun sets that really get photographers excited and nervous. Fireworks photography is notorious for missed shots, shaky images, bad exposures, and out of frame subjects. However, fireworks photography really is not as hard as you have been led to believe. These basic fireworks photo tips will help you start shooting fireworks quickly.

  • Framing
    Fireworks do not explode in the exact same spot every time. Because of this plan on taking a wider shot than you would normally do. You will need to crop the image afterwards, better to have to crop later rather than miss half the explosion!
  • Focus
    Fireworks move fast and your camera’s autofocus may have trouble with them. It is best to either prefocus on an object near to where you think they are going to explode or set your camera to manual.
  • Exposure
    Fireworks are very bright but the amount of light created during a fireworks show varies greatly. The first few explosions are generally far enough apart that a relatively long exposure time is possible. The space between explosions will also allow you to capture the shell flying into the air, the explosion, and the full extent of the explosive display. When the display reaches its finale there will be much more light and the shells will explode rapidly. In order to make an image from this situation you will have to increase your ISO speed in order to decrease the exposure time. Leave your aperture on a high setting (f14 – f22) so that the entire explosion will be in focus.
  • Suggested settings for first few explosions
    Shutter Speed = 2 seconds
    Aperture = 14
    ISO Speed = 200


  • Suggested settings for rapid explosions
    Shutter Speed = 1 second
    Aperture = 14
    ISO Speed = 400

Those few tips above should get you on the way to taking some decent shots of fireworks

Now that you have the basics down – continue reading on so we can look at fine tuning your images. Some extra preparation and a little creativity can take your fireworks images into a whole new range.

We’ve covered the basic idea of framing wide so that you won’t have to recompose your shot with every shell. But how do you make the most of that wide frame? Check out your location ahead of time. If you are shooting a fireworks show you have seen before, you will have a pretty good idea of where the shells will explode. If you can, explore the possible vantage points for the show in the daylight. If you are not familiar with the show, arrive early, ask the organisers where the fireworks tend to go and  look where the crowds are starting to gather. When you are checking out vantage points there are several things you should keep in mind.

  • Is there a vantage point where you can include an iconic landmark in the frame (a bridge or pier)?
  • Are there power lines in the way?
  • Will there be streetlights or other light sources around that could flare or ghost on your images?
  • Are there going to be a lot of other people around who might bump or knock over your camera and tripod?
  • If the weather is threatening, can you get your equipment out of rain quickly?


With a digital camera you will need to use your manual focus setting and focus on the first shell by hand then lock the focus. If you allow the autofocus to fine-tune the focus you should immediately turn the focus mode back to manual so that your camera will not try to focus with each shell. If a building or other landmark will appear in the frame you can also focus on that structure.

Once you have the focus distance determined you should consider your depth of field. Aperture settings are not just for light control when it comes to fireworks. Fireworks are actually rather large items and require a fairly large depth of field. This larger depth of field is especially important if you are including a landmark or other structure in your image. F-Stops of 14 or higher are your best bet for crisp images.

Fireworks have a wide range of light intensity. However, even the faintest firework is probably at least as bright as a streetlight at the same distance. Because of this you will be able to shoot with much slower film speeds and faster exposure times than you might instinctively think. If you are including a landmark or building, take an exposure reading off of that structure and underexpose just a little. If there will be nothing in the image you will have to guess at the first exposure. Remember that some of your exposures will be slightly underexposed and some will be slightly overexposed due to the changes in the fireworks themselves and how many shells are exploding at one time.

Some suggested starting points for determining exposure are:

  • Aperture f16
    ISO 100

Shutter Speed 2 Seconds


  • Aperture f14
    ISO 200
    Shutter Speed 2 Seconds


  • (Finale of Rapid Shells)
    Aperture f18
    ISO 100
    Shutter Speed 1.25 Seconds

If you are shooting with a digital SLR select RAW mode, this will allow for more freedom in recovery of slightly overexposed or underexposed images in your editing software.

Support and Eliminating Shake
Tripods or other sturdy support are a must for fireworks photography. Even the best image stabilization technology is unlikely to be able to give you a rock solid image at 2 seconds handheld. Tripods do not have to be expensive to be stable. Even most cheap tripods have a hook on the bottom of them that is designed to hold weights. These weights provide extra stability for lightweight tripods. A couple of wrist exercise weights tied together work wonderfully for tripod weight without being too bulky. Remember to check your tripod’s manual for weight limits. If you are not going to use a tripod, you can use anything from a bean bag to a pillow to help support your camera but be aware that each time you touch your camera it will shake slightly.

To eliminate shaky fireworks, you need to avoid shaking your camera. Some shake will happen just by the shutter raising and lowering. However, most shake comes from photographers pressing the shutter button and then releasing it. If you will be manually pressing the shutter button, do not stab the button and yank your hand back. This will cause a lot of shake. Relax your hand on the camera and gently press the button. Try and arrive early so that you are set and relaxed, the more relaxed you are, the less you shake. Alternatively, if your camera has the option of a remote release (either wired or wireless) you can almost eliminate shake. If you shop around remote releases are generally available for under £20.

After Capture
Because you will not be adjusting exposure for each firework, some post processing is usually required for great fireworks images. Levels, Saturation, and Contrast are the most common adjustments for fireworks photography.

  • Levels
    Levels allow you to adjust the light quality of your image. By setting the darkest point and lightest point on your image you can dramatically increase the power of your image.
  • Saturation
    Sometimes your fireworks images will look slightly “washed out” due to exposure or competition from other light sources. A quick way to correct this is to pull up the “adjust hue/saturation” control in your photo editing software. Increase the colour saturation slightly (no more than +10) and then adjust the “lightness” down slightly (no more than -15) to darken the sky and add clarity to the colours.
  • Contrast
    If your images still look slightly washed out you can adjust the contrast to add some clarity to the explosions. Be careful not to add so much contrast the brightest parts of the explosions look completely overexposed.

You’ve learned all about the basics of firework photography and some more advanced techniques yet your photos still don’t come out how you want?

Partial explosions, light trails with no explosion burst, lots of missed shots. What are you doing wrong? I’m going to tell you the number 1 secret to great fireworks photography.

The number 1 secret for great fireworks photography is timing. You need to know when explosions will start and how long they last.
Fireworks Timing

  • Listen – fireworks are loud, when you hear the boom start counting
  • Look – when the fireworks explosion starts, count again
  • Act – Use the time from the “listen” step to know when to push the shutter button just before an explosion begins. Use the time from the “look” step to know how long a shutter speed you need to capture the entire explosion bloom.

That’s it! The number 1 secret to fireworks photography is just that simple. Know your timing and you’ll get the shot you want.

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Beach photography hints and tips final part – Creative beach photography

Creative beach photography

Creative beach photography is a way to help make sure you get great beach pictures. Instead of the same old shots of beaches at midday like so many people take, try these creative beach photography ideas instead.

Get Close
Using macro photography techniques to get great close up shots of common beach items. Shells, footprints, even old glass bottles can become beautiful when you make them the centre of attention.

Change Your Point of View
Try shooting from very low, at a crab’s eye level, or shoot towards the beach while wading in the water (don’t drop your camera!). Change where you shoot from and you change the entire feel of the picture. Changing your point of view also changes the light so be sure to experiment with different shooting locations to find your best light for a photo.

Go Early or Stay Late
Early morning not only offers magnificent sunrises, it offer strongly angled light and much less crowding. Early morning is also a great time to catch fog on the beach. Staying late allows you to catch wonderful sunsets, it also allows you to get starlit skies over the ocean or the moon rising in the distance. Evening at the beach also gives you a chance to catch crabs and other creatures beginning to stir.

Chase the Storms
After a storm there is often a lot of very interesting debris on shore. The sand is also creates some interesting designs from the wind and rain. Before a storm, find a safe spot and photograph the lightning as it approaches the shore, don’t forget to protect your camera from the rain etc.

The beach is a great place to work with silhouettes because the sun is usually visible either at sunrise or sunset so you have access to the strong light angles needed to get the sun behind a subject.

That’s all for beach photography hints and tips, please leave comments with your ideas and pictures.


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Taking Pictures of the Sea

Taking pictures of the sea

Chances are that if you take a picture of the beach you’ll have some of the wide open sea in the picture. Learning how to photograph the sea (or any water) is all about knowing what feel you want to convey with your photo.

Freezing the Water
One of the most common methods for photographing the sae is to freeze the movement of the water. This method shows detail in the water and waves such as water droplets frozen in mid-air. Like most fast moving things you want photograph, freezing the water requires a high shutter speed. The shutter speed you need will change depending on the speed of the water, While you may need shutter speeds of upto 1/4000 of a second or faster to freeze droplets of water, water splashing from waves has many speeds and tends to go in all directions generally your distance from the waves will let you shoot with a more moderate shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second. If lighting conditions allow for the faster speed always aim on for a quicker shutter when trying to freeze the movement of water.

As in our first look at beach photography don’t forget to try and protect your camera, try to avoid windy days when surf and sand are flying, although this is often when the most dramatic waves and water splashes occur!

Capturing the Water’s Motion
the complete opposite to when we are trying to freeze water is when weare trying to take photos of creamy streaks of water to create a sense of movement in a still image. To capture the sea (or river/waterfall) motion, use a slow shutter speed. As before the exact shutter speed will vary based on the speed of the water but start around 1/5 of a second and increase or decrease until you find the best shutter speed that you like. To get these very slow speeds in bright light you’ll need to use a low ISO (100-200), narrow aperture (f16-f22), and ideally a neutral density filter (ND filter). Think of a ND filter as a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It reduces the amount of light entering the lens but is designed to not affect the colour of the light. Remember you’ll need a tripod, monopod, or other sturdy surface to balance your camera when shooting with low shutter speeds.

Catching the Blue
imagine a beach scene, it has a wide range of colours and brightness levels, from dark rocks to light sand and even brighter sea, to help your camera deal with this you will often need to help your camera capture the blue of the water instead of a washed out overexposed image. The easiest way to do this is to use a polarizing filter. These filters help cut through the haze and tend to deepen the blue of water and sky.

Reflections on the Water
Don’t forget reflections, these can often make a picture, If the sea water is smooth with no waves you can often capture reflections of piers, boats. If you are using a polarizing filter, like we discussed earlier, you will need to remove this as this filter tends to reduce the reflective effect.

Illuminating the Water
Don’t forget to think about where the light is coming from often the same part of the coast & sea can look completely different at different times of the day dependant on where the sun is. Capturing waves and splashes with the sun behind the water can create stunning effects as well. Remember that with this type of shot you’ll want to plan your exposure for the darker part of the water so that the sun illumination is very bright.

In our final part of beach photography we will be looking at Creative beach photography.

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Beach photography – hints and tips part 1

Hi, this is going to be the first of many posts (hopefully) sharing some of the things I have learnt during my photographic journey, hope you enjoy and perhaps learn a little.


Beach Photography

I know it’s nearly the end of August and we have probably seen the best of our summer (I think I blinked and missed it!), but I am sure we will see some more before the years out and for those of you off on your travels the hints and tips below will help you with your beach photography. Also don’t just think of taking pictures of the beach during summer, some of the best light is during the autumn/winter. Over the next few blogs I will be sharing some tips on beach photography, the first of my blogs, Beach photography basics is below, in the next two blogs I will be looking at, Taking pictures of the sea & Creative beach photography. 


Beach Photography Basics

Most of us visit the coast either on our holidays or if you are lucky enough to live near the coast more often. Nowhere in the UK is further than 70 miles from the coast, and the coast of the UK mainland measures over 11,000 miles,  a lot of this is made up of beaches, some are sandy and smooth, others rocky and full of edges. For our beach photography basics lesson we’ll look at sandy beaches as they present the most unique challenges to getting a great beach picture. There are 3 main points to remember when photographing beaches. These are protecting your camera, exposure, and horizons.

Dealing with Sand and Water
Before we start looking at how to actually take the picture we need to think about protecting our cameras from the sand and water. When sand gets between your toes it rubs, sand inside your camera will do the same thing to its insides!  Also if it gets on the front of your lens it will cause spots on your pictures. Water will also cause spots on your lens and, as we know water and electronics don’t mix, if it gets inside the camera it may end up destroying the camera.

Now how to protect your camera try, to avoid windy days when surf and sand are flying, consider a rain hood which can be purchased for less than £10 (cheaper than buying a new camera). This won’t stop every bit of sand and water in bad weather but it will greatly reduce the chances of sand/water damage.

Most of the time, your camera will try to underexpose a beach scene due to bright glare from water or bright sand. Remember, your camera’s exposure meter wants everything to be an even grey. To combat this, bracket a few exposures to see what works best for your particular lighting instance and then set your exposure compensation accordingly. Be aware that rapidly changing lighting situations (setting sun for example) will most likely require manual exposure settings rather than relying on the camera’s computer.

Because many beach scenes have wide expanses of horizon visible it is very important to make sure the horizon line is straight, try it take one picture off of level and take the same picture again but this time make sure the horizon is level – see the difference! Beyond practice, some cameras (like my Canon 7D) now come with built in levels to help you keep the horizon straight. You can also use a small pocket level from any hardware store if you are working with a tripod or purchase a hotshoe level from most good camera retailers.


Thats all for now – coming soon, taking pictures of the sea……

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My Journey So Far…….

My Journey So Far!!!

Where to start?

Well my journey into the world of photography started way back when I was about 12 years old, my parents bought me my first SLR which was a Zenith 12XP, this was way before the advent of digital photography or anything really automatic, all you had was a light meter built in the rest was up to me, needless to say whilst learning there were a few mistakes!

That Christmas I was happy taking pictures of anything, admittedly it was mainly pictures of turkey, sprouts and sausage rolls, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. Anyway I have been hooked ever since.

It was those early days as a photographer that helped me decide what to do following being made redundant in early 2012….

As anyone knows who has been made redundant it is not the best time of your life, but I decided to remain positive and look forward to what opportunities may be out there for me. I looked around at what other photographers were doing and decided that although I had a decent Canon DLSR and could take a reasonable photo, I needed help with the “business of photography”. I spent some time searching for the right training organisation to help take my business to the next level, most of the courses out there for photographers seemed to be about taking better photographs not what to do with them once you have them.

This is when I stumbled across Excel Photography Training which is run by Jeff Turnbull, I initially spoke to Jeff over the phone and there was no hard sell, it was just a conversation about where I wanted to go with my photography. I signed up with Jeff on his Business Excelerator Mentoring Programme.

In my first few months of being a professional photographer I have undertaken a number of shoots and secured bookings for the next 18 months including weddings and nursery schools.

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Hello world!

Hi my name is Jon Dixon, I have started this blog for the following reasons;


To let people know what I am upto

To share my experiences of being a self employed professional photographer

Share hints and tips on photography (and anything else that catches my eye!!)


I am aiming to update my Blog on a regular basis, so watch this space……..


look forward to sharing more soon………



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