I know the smoke has cleared from the 4th, and most people won't think about fireworks again until New Year's Eve. I decided to do this post, when I read a question on a Facebook group, asking how to shoot fireworks. I read that question on July 3. If you are wanting great firework pictures you do not start your planning on the day before the firework show.
I had planned to shoot at Mt. Rushmore this year, but had to change my plans since they have cancelled their fireworks for the next few years. I know I have 3 or 4 years to scout out my locations for Mt. Rushmore and to plan where I will set my tripod when they decide to light the next fuse. In the meantime, I shot at our local firework show this year and used the same setup I have used for years on fireworks.
The first thing I do when I scout my spots, is I look for what will be in the background. At my local show, the fireworks are shot over a lake so I don't have much of a background to worry about. When I make it to Mt. Rushmore, I will have to find a spot to put the carving in focus and in the right place of the frame. I will also find out the wind direction and set up so the smoke will be cleared of the fireworks.
When you get to the show, mount your camera on your tripod and aim it to where you think the fireworks will be. Set your focus to manual focus and turn off any Image Stabilizers. Set your focus ring to infinity, your ISO to 100 (I used to start with ISO 400 but the newer fireworks are a lot brighter now) your fstop on between 6.3 and 11.0. You can adjust the fstop as needed. Set your shutter to BULB. With these settings you will open your shutter with a cable release and hold it open until you see the fireworks that you want in the picture. Then you will release the shutter and get ready for the next exposure.
When I am shooting, I am counting seconds while I am watching what is in the sky. When I feel too much light is entering the camera I close the shutter. If I feel like there hasn't been enough light enter the camera I will leave the shutter open, but will cover the lens with my hat. That will keep any ambient light out of my lens and off of my sensor. When a new rocket is fired I remove my hat and get the shot. This method will allow you to have very long exposures to stack multiple bursts in a single frame, without increasing the amount of grain in your image.
When I feel like I have gotten some good wide-angle shots, I will experiment with different angles. I will turn the camera and shoot some horizontal shots, or I will zoom in tighter to fill the frame with burst.
I have also recommend shooting in RAW, this will give you the most control over the final exposure and colors of the images. It will also give you a large enough file, in case you decide to enlarge a few of your shots.
So, get out there and be ready when they light the next fuse, shoot and have fun.