Happy Freedom Fourth!

July 4th can be one long joyride of displays of patriotism, parades, picnics, and pyrotechnics en masse. For those of us with cameras, there is so much to snap. Americans everywhere, expats included, may your celebrations be fun, safe, and full of awesome photos. Happy Independence Day!


ABQ Freedom Fourth Pyrotechnics, 2015

My outdoor photography mental floss for a Freedom 4th Celebration with Fireworks:


  1. Ready the Gear:
    • Set up the camera with either a wide-angle lens, or a wide-angle zoom telephoto ;
    • Remove UV and polarizer filters;
    • Tripod;
    • Shutter release device (wired or remote);
    • Freshly charged batteries;
    • Memory cards;
    • Headlamp or flashlight (to see the camera controls in the dark, of course)
  2. Pack the picnic dinner, a blanket and/ or viewing chairs;
  3. Stake out the fireworks’ viewing area; get a view of the staging rig where the fireworks will be ignited. Claim your spot in the event park. Remember: you’ll be shooting up into a distant area of the sky; allow room for a few anchor points in the frame on which to focus.
  4. Ideally, face east so light from the setting sun doesn’t interfere with your desirable dark sky.  You may want to take some warm-up candid shots during the “blue hour” to achieve a good estimate of your target area for lens focus.  There is an element of anticipation/speculation until the first firework is shot into the sky.  The reveal will be quick: then get the focus sorted.
  5. Pyrotechnics at the beginning of the light show will be observed with the clearest air; smoke accumulates, so the longer the fireworks display, the smokier the viewing area will become.


  1. Turn off camera settings for automatic long exposure noise reduction;
  2. Turn off lens image stablization when you are using the tripod;
  3. Turn off LIVE VIEW on the camera’s rear LCD to prolong battery life ;
  4. ISO-100;
  5. Aperture range: F/8 – F/16; a virutally infinite, deep depth of field is desired;
  6. Try setting the focus with use of Auto Focus, then secure sharp settings and lock the focus, or switch to manual focus;
  7. Use Bulb Mode: engage the shutter when you hear the ignition of the explosives; hold it open for 5-8 seconds for the burst, review your shot, adjust the settings, then repeat the process. If resulting light trails ended prematurely (too short) then add more time to the exposure; if resulting image is overexposed (too much oversaturated light trails) then reduce the open shutter time.
  8. Long Exposure Technique: The Blackout Card
    • I’ve read about this but will be trying it for the first time this holiday. It is supposed to permit a capture of several firework bursts in one long exposure.
    • Bring a black card large enough to cover the lens for the periods in-between pyrotechnic bursts.
    • In Bulb Mode, keep the shutter open for a firework; B) At the end of the desired exposure, instead of closing the shutter, keep it open and place the blackout card in front of the lens; C) Be sure not to touch the lens camera or tripod to avoid image shake camera vibration/shake. D) Remove the card for a few bursts before ending the total exposure.
  9. Try changing the tripod head’s orientation: make some shots as verticals, some as horizontals.
  10. Zoom in for abstracts or pull out wide for landscape shots. Try a zoom-burst during a firework explosion for a creative effect.
  11. Experiment, have fun, and enjoy the brightly lit night exposures.


For the musicians who are reading this, here is sheet music to “America The Beautiful” to get on your patriotic melody worm:



Sheet music By Aetzkorn – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10073118



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