Tomorrow we celebrate our country’s 240th birthday. With the 4th of July comes cookouts and fireworks displays. I can’t help you grill the perfect hamburger or steak, but I’ve got 5 quick tips that will help you capture memorable fireworks pictures with your smartphone.
Avoid shake and stabilize your phone
You will definitely need a way to keep your phone steady. That means you need a tripod or a monopod because any shaking or vibration of the smartphone / camera while trying to take a picture in the dark will result in a blurry image that you’ll end up sending straight to the trashcan. If you don’t already own a tripod that you can attach your phone to, don’t worry, I know a quick and dirty way to make one that won’t cost you anything and you can carry it in your pocket. You just need a long piece of string or yarn. The length will vary depending on how tall you are but 12-20 feet should be enough. It won’t hurt to cut more than you need.
Tie a slip knot or a bow to make a big loop and then stand on the loop with one or both feet while keeping the knot at the top so you can adjust it if needed. Hold your smartphone between your hands at the top of the loop and pull upward to make the string taunt. Keep your elbows in. This will keep the phone steadier than if you just held it normally.
Flash and zoom won’t help
Turn off the flash in your camera app. I know you’ll be standing outside in the dark and you think a flash will help, but trust me, it won’t. Your camera’s flash can only illuminate subjects that are a few feet away, so trying to illuminate fireworks high in the sky is a pipe dream. It will also really annoy everyone else who is trying to enjoy the fireworks display if you use flash.
While you’re at it, don’t use zoom either. It will just make your shots more grainy.
The key to good fireworks images is in the exposure settings
With a DSLR camera, this is a piece of cake, but iPhones and most Android phones do not have the ability to adjust things like the ISO setting and shutter speed. Some Android phones do have better camera features, so check your camera app’s settings and turn the ISO down to 400 and set the shutter speed to 2-4 seconds. Your Android phone might even have a special scene mode just for low light or fireworks shots. If so, use that!
You can also try 3rd party apps like Camera FV-5 Lite and Open Camera which give you control over more settings and includes a fireworks mode.
If you have an iPhone, try taking several pictures and after you get a couple pictures that look good, use Exposure Lock to lock the exposure settings so that your future shots will turn out good too. To do that, tap and hold on the screen in the area where you want to lock the exposure. You’ll know it’s on when you see a message that says “AE/AF LOCK” appear at the top of the screen or above the shutter button depending on your version of iOS.
iPhone users will also want to try apps like Slow Shutter! and Slow Shutter Cam which let you take a long exposure image capture which is crucial for great fireworks shots.
When all else fails use video
If you try these tips and aren’t able to capture any good shots, then switch to video mode. In a lot of situations, this will capture better footage with no need to tweak settings.
Don’t spend the whole time trying to take pics
Take a few shots and then sit back and actually watch the fireworks show with your eyes instead of through your smartphone’s display. You’ll miss all the o000hs and ahhhhs moments if you have all your attention directed to your phone instead of the sky.