How to take stunning nighttime photos on Canada Day

Canada lit up with sparklers.
Photo by Click Images/Shutterstock

How are you spending Canada Day? This July 1st (or throughout the rest of the weekend) the chances that you’ll be having fun with sparklers at a barbecue or scoping out some fireworks are highly likely. Canada is the anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, and since the 1960’s—perhaps because of the success of Canada’s Expo ‘67—celebrating during the Canada Day weekend has been a tradition (and a national stat holiday) that we all look forward to.

What you’ll need

While you can photograph sparklers or fireworks with a point-and-shoot camera and a nighttime setting, they won’t turn out as great as if you manually adjust your settings on a DSLR camera.

You will also need a tripod for shooting both fireworks and sparklers (stillness on the photographer’s end is key here).

Shooting super-cool sparkler shots

To shoot a simple photo of sparklers at night, set your DSLR camera to manual, adjust your aperture to 16, your ISO to 100, and your shutter speed should be somewhere around 3 seconds. The long shutter speed and the stillness of the camera are what allow you to capture the light of the sparklers so clearly.

Have your friends or family set themselves up in the frame and as you press the shutter release, cue the action! You can draw designs, spell out words, or dance around; whatever you can come up with! Be sure to have plenty of battery power and space on your camera for storage (add a memory card if you can and need to). Working digitally, you can take and re-take as many photos as you’d like.

Play around with your settings based on the above general guidelines to see what you can come up with and the kind of photo results you desire. You can also add an off-camera flash to your kit if you’d like to take photos with more dynamic lighting (and visible subjects). The time of day you choose to shoot your sparkler photos will also have an effect on the character of the photo. Total darkness will result in less visible subjects, but shooting at a time when according to JP Danko “the exposure level of the ambient light is just dropping below the exposure level of the sparklers,” usually at about a half hour after sunset will give photos a more dramatic effect (and require an adjustment in your shutter speed in aperture).

Unforgettable fireworks photos


Photo by CMT Photography/Shutterstock

Because you’re shooting at night, the explosions from the warm colours in the fireworks will be on the warm side requiring you to adjust your white balance to a Tungsten (around 3000 k). If your fireworks still look too warm, dial the white balance down a bit and try shooting your photos again.

Your exposure for fireworks needs to be on the longer side, so set your DSLR camera to manual and your shutter speed to its lowest speed. This allows you to hold the shutter as long as you need in order to capture the entirety of the fireworks. Begin by setting your aperture to 11 and if needed adjust either way. If your fireworks are too dark, bring your aperture to a lower number, too bright? Bring the aperture to a higher number. Your ISO should be on its default (100 or 200).

An auto-focus setting won’t adjust itself properly on a nighttime sky, so you’ll have to manually focus your lens to perfectly capture fireworks. Don’t twist the focus all the way towards infinity, but rather stop just before it. Avoid shooting into the wind to avoid capturing smoke on top of the fireworks in the sky, play around with framing your photos and your distance/depth, and have fun!

Wouldn’t it be nice to take some beautiful photos to commemorate the sparklers and fireworks that you (or the kids or grandkids) catch this weekend? Rather than photos that are too dark or oversaturated with flash (a common Canada Day weekend blunder), take nighttime photos that are beautiful, professional looking, and totally easy to pull of with just a few simple steps.

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