fireworks differently (“defocusing” during exposition)

As summer fireworks season is approaching (think 4th of July), here’s a one cool photo technique tip I would like to share with you folks. Before you’ll head out to find a best spot and try to capture this beauty same way as last years, consider to try something new this time. I had to wait whole year to try it, but finally, my wait was over – last Friday city of Ballwin was celebrating their Ballwin days! Hooray!

So what is this buzz all about? It’s actually simple. Put your camera on tripod, set up exposure to have shutter speed at 2 or 3 seconds and then try to aim to the epicenter of the explosion.
Then while having your shutter open, rotate your focusing ring (hence “defocusing fireworks”) from infinity where the fireworks is sharp to a minimal focus distance your lens will allow you (or vice versa, play!). The full focus ring rotation has to happen during those two seconds. It is a very similar method to “zooming” technique, which Bryan Peterson maybe taught you in his books, workshops or online school. But instead of rotating zooming ring, you’ll be rotating focusing ring.

Couple of things you need to take into a consideration for your setting:

  • Longer focal length will work better, as the difference between “focused” and “out of focus” is more visible. But you don’t want to go too long, as than chances that the firework will explode in your  viewfinder are getting thinner with your telezoom. All pictures here in the post were shot at 70mm with my 24-70mm lens or at 85mm with my prime lens. Between 60-100mm you should be safe. 
  • Get as close as possible to the fireworks, but don’t forget – safety first!!
  • Be on tripod, but have your head slightly loose so you can operate a bit and aim for the explosion epicenters.
  • 2 or 3 seconds are necessary to have enough time to capture movement and get de-focused trail. My settings for the majority of the shots here were: 2 seconds at  f/11 with ISO 400
  • It’s a lot about being lucky, so the colorful shot will explode in the middle of the area you are aiming. So don’t be frustrated, if 80% of your 100 shots made during 10 minutes will go straight to the trash 😉
  • Turn off your auto focus, obviously. So your camera will fire right away when you’ll click the shutter. You will “focus and defocus” on your own anyway.
  • Make sure to arrive well ahead to get a good spot – no trees, lamps or buildings blocking your view and set up your tripod and camera.

And that’s it. All pictures here are (almost) straight out of the camera. Some of them I’ve cropped a bit and/or added a bit of color saturation. But other than that – this is what you’ll get. Easy, huh? Have fun!
PS: This came across my inbox first time last summer (thanks and credit goes to Clayton!), when fireworks were over and I hate cold, so I declined to go out to shoot it on New Year’s Eve 🙂 But, the wait worth it, right?
PS2: Po slovensky tento článok vyšiel tu.




    1. Thanks for taking the time to share this tip, Patrik. I'm looking forward to using it as soon as possible.

    2. Thanks Joe, compliments are always welcomed! LOL
      Hope you'll have fun with shooting fireworks and it won't be cancelled due to the fire hazard risk, as it happen in our area tonight 🙁
      I'm so glad I had time to try it already during Ballwin days!
      Don't forget to share your amazing shots at our fan page –

    3. Hey Richard! Thanks for comment and stopping by. I'm really proud to read that my tip initiated taking your camera out first time this year! That's cool and your pictures looks neat 😉 Have a great weekend!

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