How to Photograph and Post-Process Fireworks

Editor's Note: This article was written by Phil Wirth in 2017 and is reprinted here with his kind permission, along with the accompanying photograph.

Rowlett Fireworks (2017)
Rowlett Fireworks (2017)

A friend asked for a photo of the 2017 Rowlett Fourth of July fireworks to share with a civic organization the next morning. The final image would need enough foreground to clearly identify the event and a the creation of a composite seemed to be the most idiot-proof way to include it.

Since time was so limited I needed photos that could be composited easily. Therefore, my priorities included a rock-steady camera mount, no automatic camera adjustments between exposures, and as little camera vibration and noise as possible.

The camera was mounted on a tripod strapped to a heavy trash barrel.

I took the foreground photo before the fireworks (note that the pre-fireworks entertainers were still on stage). Later I took dozens of fireworks pictures using a cable release.

The camera settings were:

  • 20mm fixed lens with no image stabilization
  • manual focus
  • ISO 100
  • F/8
  • WB set to daylight
  • 10 second exposure

Long exposure noise reduction and mirror lockup options were turned on. I had tested out these settings the night before while taking fireworks photos in Joshua, Texas.

Little post-processing was needed. I selected three pictures, opened them in Camera Raw for lens correction and noise reduction, and then imported them into Photoshop.

The top Photoshop layer was the foreground picture, the second layer was a picture from the big finale that was full of fireworks, and the third layer was a picture with a few more fireworks to help the composition.

I increased contrast and saturation on the fireworks layers, then flattened the image using the Lighten blending option so the fireworks shined through.

Finally I cropped the image and sharpened it a little using the Unsharp mask filter. Two jpegs; one 5X7 at 360dpi and smaller image at 72 dpi for computer displays, were delivered via email.

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