2014 July    Weather, Sky, & Outdoor     Photography

Updated 2017


Fireworks are not exactly "weather", but they are usually up in the sky, and you need good weather to enjoy them. 

There are a lot of articles on how to photograph fireworks, so I wanted to concentrate on film.  This is, after all, a mostly-film site. 

Film is still my favorite way to photograph fireworks. 

Digital cameras let you take tons of pictures and chimp through them until you get it right.  Film requires more care to be taken beforehand.  Set everything up right, though, and you can get some great photos of your town's fireworks display.

Camera Selection

Try to choose something with manual settings and "Bulb" mode.  

Most TLR's, SLR's, and some rangefinders will work great for fireworks.  Toy cameras such as the Holga or Diana Mini actually work great, because they have Bulb mode and operate at f/8 or f/11, which is about perfect for ISO 100 or 200 film. 

Just as important as your camera is a tripod.  If you're going to be holding the shutter open for seconds at a time, you'll need a good tripod.   Well, actually, some of my best fireworks photos were taken with cheap department store tripods from the Seventies.   Use a cable release if your tripod wobbles a bit.  The reason this can work is that tripod headshake settles down after a second or two of the shutter being open. 

So yes, a cheap tripod can actually work OK for fireworks, as long as you have a cable release.

Want to be awesome?  It takes real skill to photograph fireworks with a Holga, but the results can be beautiful.  Also try you this link;  there are usually many there for sale.  

The Holga 120N takes (you guessed it) 120 film.  Put some Velvia or Provia in your Holga.  Set it on "Bulb" and "Cloudy", attach it to the tripod, and hold the shutter release lever open when there are fireworks going off.  Obviously, make sure you've got the camera focused and your shots well-composed.

("Focused" with the Holga requires quotes, because it's kind of a special proposition.   In the photo you can see part of the picture is very sharp, while part is blurred.  And it's all good!)

This picture was taken with Astia, which was actually a portrait film, but Provia 100F would work just fine.   

Fireworks on Holga

Fujichrome Astia 100
"Cloudy" setting (I think)
Cheap tripod

This wasn't even the best one from the roll.  Nearly every one came out great.  That's because once you figure out where in the sky the fireworks are going to go off, all you have to do is steadily open the shutter and then close it again when you think you got some good ones.

Film Selection

Velvia 100 is my favorite for this purpose, but actually I've used Astia, Elite Chrome, and even color negative film. 

Fuji Provia 100F would be just as good as Astia, which was actually a portrait film.  Neither of these films was designed for max saturation, but as you can see in the photo above, it won't matter with fireworks.   (For 120 size Provia, try here or the 35mm size here;  it helps me keep this website going.)   Provia is a great all-around film.  Because it's not hyper-saturated, it's superb for everything from portraits to product photos to anything else.

As for color negative film, Fuji Superia is great for fireworks.  Here's just an example:

Fuji Superia 400
Yashica Electro 35
Bulb @ f/16

You could easily crank the saturation up on your Superia scans.  This one was left as-is to give an idea.

I used a cheap tripod here because I could, and because I wanted to prove a point;  but if it weren't for that, I'd use a better one for almost anything where a steady camera is required. 

Another great film is Kodak Ektar 100.  Pick up a 5-roll pro pack for your Holga 120 here.   Obviously, this film also works great in any other medium-format camera.  (The phrase "medium format" seems to suggest a level of refinement that the Holga doesn't have... but yep, the Holga would technically be a medium format camera.)

One reason why I like color negative film is that it has such great exposure latitude.  If you think you'll need f/16, use f/11 and the negative film will handle it. You could even probably get by with f/8, because two stops overexposure with neg film is well within its tolerance range.

Fuji Superia 400
Yashica Electro 35

You can see where I slightly adjusted the camera.  I might have put the lens cap on during the adjustment, but either way, it gives almost a "double exposure" effect. 

Camera Settings

What Apertures for Fireworks Photography?
These will work for film or digital.

ISO 50....... f/5.6
ISO 100..... f/8
ISO 200......f/11
ISO 400......f/16
ISO 800......f/22
ISO 1600....
your digital camera lens probably doesn't have the required aperture for this.   Some do, though, but because the diffraction is so bad, you're just better off turning down the ISO setting.  The actual amount of diffraction depends on pixel size, and it gives me a headache to think about such technical details at the moment I'm writing this.  Maybe later.

By the way, these settings also work for photographing lightning, although lightning seems to be about a stop brighter than fireworks if you get really thick bolts. 

Special Tips for the Holga, etc.

Cheap plastic toy cameras like the Holga are (obviously) not made to be rock-solid on a tripod.  There is a lot of flexion, which will blur your pictures if you're not careful. 

I've found it's possible to steady the Holga and very carefully operate the shutter.  If you want to learn to do this, I'd first suggest putting your empty Holga on the tripod and practicing.  Watch for camera movement as you actuate the shutter lever. 

I mentioned cheap tripods before.  Here's what I'd do.  Since cheap tripods are... well, cheap... bring an extra one just for your Holga.  Then take the rest of your pictures with a 35mm SLR fitted with a cable release. 

And of course, that calls for some Velvia 50 or 100.


This has been a quick look at "fireworks on film" and how to get 'em there.   If this article was helpful to you, please help me out by purchasing your stuff through these links.  Support from readers like you is what keeps this site going.

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