As many who have taken fireworks shots know it can sometimes be challenging to get them to turn out how you like them to. In talking to different photographers and enthusiasts it would seem that many have a different view of what they want. Some go for solid exposure while trying to keep highlights from blowing out, yet others want as many bursts in the shot as possible. Some want a stunning cityscape from which the fireworks burst forth into the sky.
My personal style aims for a few approaches. First I always want as much vibrant color and as many bursts as possible. Also depending on the situation composition can play a big factor, especially when working amongst a crowd. The way people appear and the surrounding scene appear in my shots is almost as important as the bursts themselves.
What I rely most on for fireworks are the fundamentals, tripod and remote shutter release is a must have. The right lens for the angle of view. Often I will work with a fixed lens as I have more flexibility in low light as well as benefiting from the added sharpness and quality that a fixed lens can provide.When using an ultrawide angle lens you can benefit from better depth of field at wider f-stops.
Depending on how much light I have my exposure will range usually from 2-4 seconds, on a fixed lens I would go anywhere from f-7.1- f13.
The real trick is controlling ambient light and balancing that with the bright rapid bursts that fireworks provide. To control this I use a trick that many have used since the beginning of photography, physically blocking light from entering the lens while the shutter is open. To accomplish this first I will start the exposure as I see the fireworks start bursting into the sky.
With the shutter open for 2-4 seconds I will then for about half a second place my hand in front of the lens, or sometimes a dark object. (As long as you are using an exposure of a few seconds or more your hand wont appear in the shot.) It takes some practice to get the timing right.
The result of this technique is that more of the fireworks burst will appear in the frame, you are reducing ambient light, also you are reducing the risk of to many blown out highlights. You also can reduce the length of the trailing flares as the fireworks bursts start to fade so that you get more clearly defined lines and streaks.