Fireworks are at the top of nearly everybody’s list of favorite Fourth of July memories, but capturing the magic in fireworks photos is extremely tricky. This year, we scoured our favorite photography and tech resources for great fireworks photo tips so that the next morning, you don’t find yourself scrolling through your pics, and saying, “well…it was cool in person…”
We’re focusing here on smartphone and point-and-shoot tips, since there are so many specific technical tips for you DLSR fans. But whatever you’re shooting with, be sure to check our resource guide at the bottom which offers lots of info on ISO, white balance, aperture, bulb mode, and shutter speed settings for those of you pros.
1. Stay steady
A shaky hand, even in the teeniest way, kills the photo. You’ll definitely want to set up a tripod for even a point-and-shoot. Or if you’re shooting with your mobile device, something like the Twig or Joby’s Griptight Microstand. Though we remain fans of the original GorillaMobile Stand (above) also from Joby, which can prop up any of the above, and lets you safely tether it to a railing, a tree, or just prop it on a stoop.
If you can be still…as in really still, then give it a go. It helps if you don’t have children tugging at your sleeve telling you they’re tired. [photo: cult of mac]
2. Turn off your flash!
Do you really think you’re going to light the sky? Your flash will light foreground objects, and fireworks in the sky are not foreground objects. That’s all we’ll say about that.
3. Lock your focus
This should be fairly obvious, but in shooting something in the distance, make sure to tap your screen (or on a point-and-shoot, hold down the shutter halfway) to lock on the actual firework explosion to make sure that’s what’s in focus, and not the buildings, or worse, the heads of the people in front of you. [Great example in the top photo via Wired]
4. Try the fireworks setting on your point-and-shoot
Our friends at Photojojo recommend you use that fireworks setting because it makes thing easier on you. However to tweak your settings even more optimally, turn off your autofocus and any auto stabilization settings–which can sound counterintuitive, but may make your photos less sharp.
5. Carry a spare battery
We love the tip from B&H photo to carry a spare mobile power source like the JBL charge (above) since long exposures drain battery juice. Plus if you are on iOS7 and taking smartphone shots, your battery will be gone in ten minutes anyway. (Ha.)
7. The earliest fireworks may take the best photos
We’re impressed the clever observation from B&H that with the accumulating smoke in the sky, the cleanest photos you’ll get may be early on. That’s not great news if you’re a newbie, or if you’re expecting to get some awesome shot of the grand finale–which hey, you still might. But truly, a few great shots is all you need and if they come early, you can spend the rest of the time just experimenting. Or enjoying the show.
8. Try fireworks specific apps for your iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone
If you’ll be using a smartphone, we’re happy to report that there are several apps to help you get the same quality as a DSLR (or close to it, at least).
You Windows phone users can check out Blink (free) as well which captures a burst of photos before and after you’ve taken the shot.
8. Don’t use the smartphone zoom!
You absolutely lose resolution when you zoom in for a shot with a smartphone, as those of us who have ever photographed our kids’ school recitals in zoom modes now now. Use the widest possible framing so you use every one of those lovely pixels, then know you can always crop later.
When you do crop, consider the rule of thirds: The bursts will look best at one of those points. Turn on the grid on your camera phone; it helps, or use an app like Camera+ which also employs it. Wshown here via the WSJ).
9. Get artsy
While classic firework photos are always amazing, we love Geek Sugar‘s idea to experiment with tools like panorama shots or fish-eye lenses on your mobile phone. The results can be super cool! [photo: Flickr user legin101]
10. Hand the camera to the kids
We are always amazed by the kinds of shots our kids get, especially when they have absolutely no idea what they are doing. Passing the camera phone over to them lets you enjoy an extra special family moment, and maybe even see the fireworks with that childhood magic once again.
-Julie + Liz
Fantastic resources for the great fireworks photo tips:
11 Tips for Sparkling Fireworks:Photojojo
Tips for photographing fireworks at Wired
How to photograph fireworks at B+H Photo
Firework photography tips at Geek Sugar
9 apps for the Fourth of July at CNET
Take your best firework photos at PHP Studio
75 explosive photos of fireworks at Gizmodo