John Cornicello Shows Us How to Photograph Fireworks


The Fourth of July is coming, and we all love to watch the fireworks. We’ve already talked a little about the basics of shooting them, but we recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Cornicello, an absolute master of the art, who blogs about it fairly often.

Specifically, we chose the photo above, and asked John to break it down for us. How do you think he shot it?

Gear Used

This image was taken on July 4, 2007 in Seattle, WA, of the fireworks show on Lake Union. It was taken from the Fremont neighborhood, under the Aurora Bridge.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D (original)

Lens: Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS

Tripod: Manfrotto (don't remember if it was a 3031 aluminum or a carbon fiber)

John's Vision

Fireworks can be unpredictable. I don't tend to go in with a specific vision. But I did pick this location in order to have the water and the boats in the foreground. I like to give my fireworks photos a sense of place, if I can. I was not sure if the cathedral in the background would deter from the photo. I considered removing it, but it is a known landmark in Seattle, so I decided to leave it in.

There are large crowds for the fireworks show. When this image was created in 2007, there were two large fireworks shows in Seattle (there is only one now), so I had to decide which one to go to. I picked Lake Union due to its location (I could walk to it and avoid the traffic jams), and I knew I could get some background scenery. The other show was over a larger body of water (Elliott Bay), and I thought those fireworks wouldn't have the sense of place these would.

Technical Details

The exposure for fireworks is pretty much controlled by ISO and aperture. Fireworks are bright. I go for the lowest ISO I can (usually ISO 100), and then somewhere in the f/11 to f/16 range. That gives me the exposure that will hold some color and not blow out. Then I can be creative with the shutter speed. A longer shutter speed will give longer streaks in the shells that are lit up in flight, and will allow for capturing multiple bursts. A lot of it, though, is timing and luck. I use a remote shutter release cable, and I'll take shots ranging from one to five or six seconds. I simply hold the button down, and count one one-thousand, two one-thousand, etc., as I watch the bursts and decide when I think I've caught something interesting.

Focal Length: 125mm

Aperture: F/16

Shutter Speed: 3 seconds

ISO: 100


Post production is pretty simple. I shoot in raw, and edit in Adobe Lightroom where I'll play with color temp, brightness, clarity, and vibrance to taste. In this situation, I am more concerned with good/pleasing color than with totally accurate color. On a different day, I might adjust the colors slightly differently.

Here's another version that I did with a cooler color temperature, making things go more to the blue side. But I prefer the one you saw, which has more purples in it.

Adobe Lightroom was used.

White Balance: 5600K

Tint: -2

Exposure: +0.55

Brightness: +84

Contrast: +25

Clarity: +55

Vibrance: +43

John also has a free video on CreativeLive, where he talks more about fireworks:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio

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John Cornicello is the master of photographing fireworks! He also has the coolest collection of bandanas and glasses frames on the planet. You may recognize him from many many many creativeLIVE workshops! Have fun this week with your fireworks and be sure to watch John's 2+ hour class for FREE on

Ooooh!  Awwww!  We <3 us some "Uncle John"!

Great picture and relly good work explaning how to photograph fireworks!


Great shot,

I was shooting a wedding 2 months ago with fireworks and it was a challenge. I had to get bride,groom,fireworks and make everyone look good lol.  Worked in the end.