New Years’ Fireworks in Copacabana

Only a few hours ago I had a privileged position overlooking Copacabana Beach as up to three million revelers enjoyed the fireworks and live performances to bring in the New Year. What a great atmosphere!

However, it wasn’t all fun and games for me though as I had a lot of work to do in that I needed to capture those shots and submit them as soon as possible. Here’s what went through my head in the hours prior to the fireworks, during and after.

Ok, I had some fun too 🙂

Getting there early

I arrived at the location a good 6 hours prior to midnight for two reasons. Firstly, to escape the hustle and bustle and secondly to capture the build up to the main event.

Arriving there, I was really fortunate that the skies opened up since it was raining for two days straight. I took with me my trusty 24-70mm lens and started shooting as wide as possible at 24mm, but it just wasn’t wide enough.

I then opted for a panorama by stitching together 6 images. This is something that I’ve been doing regularly with some success.


I subsequently submitted my first batch which consisted of 14 images. These went to Alamy Live News and Rex Features (both Rights-Managed).

Sunset and tripod-time

The light got more interesting as we approached sunset, with hues of oranges and reds. I pulled out my tripod and started shooting everything at ISO 50 F10 (my lens’ “sweet spot”) and 3-5 seconds, thus ensuring the lowest noise and sharpness throughout. This isn’t too far off from the advice given by Serge Ramelli to shoot at F7.5 and 5 seconds in his “How to Shoot Fireworks” YouTube tutorial. He also recommended shooting with a good zoom lens, which I concur.

On the horizon, I noticed that some massive trans-Atlantic cruise ships were anchoring into position close to the beach.

New Years' Party on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Three of them and three more on their way

Things also got more lively at the stage set up in front of Copacabana Palace.

New Years' Party on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I like the movement of the people on the foreground. ISO 50, F10, 5 Seconds

I submitted my second batch consisting of 6 images to the above-mentioned Agencies.

Night-time and 1-hour prior to the fireworks

By this stage the cruise ships were all strategically placed to enjoy with their respective cabin lights turned on, making for some interesting shots!

New Years' Party on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
ISO 125, F10, 25 seconds
New Years' Party on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Closer up. You can see revelers in the water. In Brazil, it’s common to place reefs of flowers in the water as an offering to Yemoja, a water deity from the West-African Yoruba religion. Religion in Brazil is a fascinating mix between Catholicism, African religions and spiritualism
WhatsApp Image 2018-01-01 at 13.31.57
With some time to spare, I went ahead and got some champagne + NYE type stock shots. Never missing the opportunity!

Something like this…still need to work on it properly as have 100s of images to go through!

This third batch consisted of just 4 images.


Things were heating up. I set up my tripod, focus and settings to the best I could and waited until the countdown.

I read before that the fireworks show would last 16 minutes so I figured I would have plenty of time to get dozens of firework images, so I opted instead to capture a video of the first few moments (37 seconds to be exact). Here’s the result I uploaded to my YouTube channel. As I mentioned in my New Years’ Resolution article from a few days ago, I’m looking to shoot more stock footage so I made the perfect start to the year!

From start to finish I was shooting non-stop and here’s some of my best shots on the slideshow.

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Making small intelligent adjustments

Technically speaking, it was not easy, as my default settings of ISO 50, F10 and 5 seconds led to too long of a exposure since the fireworks were coming thick and fast. This was resulting in major clipping.

So I quickly adjusted to a faster ISO 800, F10 and 0.6 seconds, eventually setting for ISO 800, F6.5 and 1/3 seconds.  I also reduced exposure compensation by 1 F-stop to underexpose (I prefer doing this than going full manual). These adjustments worked relatively well as you can see above.

Submitting my last batch

In-camera the last round of shooting was most numerous with about 100 shots, but due to the heavy humidity and no wind towards the mid to end there was a thick smoke along the beach. This impeded the visibility of the magical fireworks.

My fourth batch consisted of only 10 images (slideshow above), but the most highly-commercial type shots.

Post-Fireworks Non-Event

Under normal circumstances I would have headed down to the beach to capture a more human side of the story. However, these were not normal circumstances, as from above I could see lots of kids running around stealing. I just didn’t feel like risking it which is a pity but it doesn’t mean I won’t another day with a small and more discreet camera.

Great news – One of the Images was Licensed to Daily Mail

I woke up this morning to see one of my images shot only a few hours’ prior featured in a Daily Mail article. Quite cool! I’ll keep searching for more licenses.

Iconic and breath-taking fireworks display on Copacabana Beach,

Why Did I submit in batches?

I submitted four different batches throughout the afternoon/evening/night. The reason is that the images would be almost IMMEDIATELY available to license to buyers. In a story like this, time is of the essence and my images were available HOURS before any other photographers in Rio submitted anything to those two agencies. For batches 1-3, the images were up and for sale literally a few minutes after I taking them. Batch 4 took a little longer since I was wishing those at the party a HPN.

Although it meant that I had to be anti-social at a party, it’s the price you had to pay when you’re obsessed haha

By the way, here’s a link to the batches on Alamy Live News and Rex Features.


Great evening and amazing results. Here’s some key-takeaways if you’re considering shooting fireworks.

  • Get there early and set up
  • Submit in batches throughout the event (if possible) to get the images to market asap
  • Shoot footage along with stock to maximise potential earnings
  • Caption/Keyword PRIOR to the event. I can’t stress this enough, it will save you a lot of time. Keep the info on your desktop in a notepad and just copy and paste.
  • Remember to also enjoy yourself with friends and family!

Happy New Year!



  1. Great story Alex, and some great photos. I’m sure there are many more to come. How on earth did you get such a great overview of the beach – was it a hotel balcony? It looked like you had room to spare and must have had space and internet connectivity for your laptop?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Steve 🙂

      Yes, very lucky! It was at a relative’s place with a decent WiFi connection and a spare room to work my magic haha

      Next year I’ll bite the bullet and head down to the beach and get some shots of revelers on the water…


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