Photographing Fireworks Without a Tripod

Congress Park Fireworks
Canon EOS 6D, 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, Av mode, 24mm, f/4, .6 seconds, ISO 1250, +1/3 EV

Admittedly this post is a little late if you were looking for tripod-less fireworks tips for Independence Day.  The shot above, however, taken on July 4, is what prompted me to write this post.

First, let me start off by saying that using a tripod is always going to yield the best results when photographing fireworks.   Using a tripod will allow you to get long exposures which are impossible to hand-hold and capture more bursts of light, creating a more dynamic and interesting photo.  That said, sometimes a tripod isn't practical.  The above photo was taken in a crowded park on a hill.  Using a tripod would not have been a good idea, as the odds of someone bumping into it or me losing my footing and bumping into it would have been pretty good.  Sometimes you just want to travel light.  I've found myself on more than one occasion shooting fireworks without a tripod and while they aren't my best results, I've managed to pull off at least one or two keepers during the show.

Cinderella's Castle a Silhouette
Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC, Av mode, 27mm, f/7.1, .3 sec, ISO 100

Use an image stabilized lens
Using an image stabilized lens is extremely important (more so than using a lens with a fast aperture), because it allows you to get a longer exposure handheld.  You want to try to get the longest exposure you can hand hold (which varies depending on how steady you can hold your camera) to capture the trails of light.  The image stabilization will give you a precious several stops.  If you shoot Sony, Olympus, or Pentax, image stabilization is built into your sensor.

Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC, Av mode, 27mm, f/7.1, .3 sec, ISO 100

Go wide
You don't necessarily have to go as wide as your lens will go, but zooming in too much increases your chances of camera shake showing up in your picture.  It's always easier to get a stable shot at a wider focal length.

Experiment with different shutter speeds
Shutter speeds from 1/3 second to 1 second are typically the range of hand-holdable exposures long enough to capture some light trail.  It's probably easiest to use Shutter priority mode (Tv or S on your mode dial), but I usually use Aperture priority (Av or A on your mode dial) and dial up or down my EV compensation to experiment with the shutter speeds.

Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC, 30mm, ISO 3200, f/25, 1 second

Use continuous burst mode
You're not going to be able to hand hold a 1 second shot every time, but if you shoot a series of shots in a row, chances are, one will come out crisp.  Shoot 8-10 shots if your buffer will allow it, then check to see if you need to try a different shutter speed.


  1. Definitely a helpful post. I sometimes would rather enjoy the fireworks than take the time to set up a tripod and just shoot from the hip if I feel like it! I find the non-tripod shots just as lovely as the tripod ones. Sometimes you can even capture things that would be lost with a tripod an an ND filter! :)

  2. I agree with Kristin on this....I think your handheld firework shots are fantastic!


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