Its not really as hard as you think once you get into it and think about it. The hard part is practicing it and managing the “stress” that occurs during the “shoot” since they only last a few minutes (5-10 minutes generally unless you’re fortunate).
Camera Settings – DSLR
ISO – fireworks are brighter than you think – even though it’s nighttime, set your ISO to the lowest setting. I go with 100.
Aperture – generally f8-f16 works well. f11 might be a good starting spot
Shutter Speed – (manual) Bulb and experiment with anything from 4 seconds to 30 seconds.
Tripod – a must for fireworks. If you don’t have one, get or borrow one. Otherwise try putting your camera on something sturdy like the roof of your car or a fence. But remember than you probably need to tilt your camera up somewhat unless you are going for a panoramic shot.
Shutter Release – highly recommended – either a cable type or a more fancy wireless remote control. The less shake on the camera (even though its on a tripod) the better. If you forgot it or don’t have one, then make sure your tripod is rock solid set and try and gently squeeze the shutter instead of pressing it.
Camera Settings – Point & Shoot
Many of these have function settings. If yours does try and find a fireworks setting. If you don’t have one see if you can go manual and go with the settings above.
Focus – since fireworks only last a few seconds auto focus is generally not recommended. Instead try and get the camera to get a good focus on the first few firework displays. Check it carefully in the LCD display. If it looks good then set your focus to manual and LEAVE it where it just was. Generally focusing on infinity is not ideal. If you don’t have a choice, go to infinity then back it out just a “wee” bit (wee is a technical photographic term meaning not too much but just enough )
Bug spray – if you live in a part of the country where your tiny insect friends also enjoy fireworks then make sure you bring some bug spray. Also a blanket or chair to sit on while waiting for the fun to begin may not be a bad idea
Last Thoughts – enjoy it! This only happens a few times a year if you’re luck so enjoy it.