This is July 4th weekend where most likely you’ll be taking pictures of fireworks. Yours, your neighbors, the city’s, at the beach, downtown. Firework photography is ambitious, you think you’ve finally mastered your smartphone, only to be saddened the next day.
But this year, with the following tips, you might be ready to capture the glory:
1. Turn off the flash
“The flash is only going to illuminate things that are within five to 10 feet of you,” says Tony Northrup, a Waterford, Conn.-based photographer and author of How to Create Stunning Digital Photography. “Maybe you actually want to light people up in the foreground, but if you do that, it’s going to under-expose the shot . . . the fireworks will end up too dark.”
2: Turn off the HDR
HDR, or high dynamic range, seems like it would be a good idea for capturing fireworks’ rich color. But in this instance, it’s going to trip up your shot, says Northrup. A way to shoot photos using multiple exposures that helps to reduce contrast (and dark, night shots are full of contrast) HDR is bad for fireworks because they’re a moving, morphing subject. As a result, when the camera captures the multiple exposures to blend the fireworks together into one HDR image, they won’t match up. So, like the flash, be sure to turn this setting off.
3: Create a long exposure
The longer your shutter is open, the more light gets exposed to the photo sensor. Applying that to fireworks, Northrup likes to create an exposure for as long as five to 10 seconds, timing the shot by starting right before the incendiary explodes. With a pro-level camera, this is easy to do, but the default app on your smartphone may not provide these kinds of controls.
Third party apps, like the free A Better Camera for Android and the $.99 Manual on iOS, can give you these capabilities with a minimal learning curve. Still, I recommend buying one at least a day before fireworks time, because they can take some getting used to. And having a tripod is pretty much essential for long exposure photography, too.
4: Shoot more than just the sky
If you want a great photo of some fireworks, Google Image Search can set you up with one. So run a query and dazzle your friends with the kind of shot you could never capture (because, frankly, you didn’t). But if you really want to photograph the bursts before your eyes, shoot more than just the sky. Northrup suggests photographers try telling a story with their shots.
“You could crouch down behind your kid and shoot the back and side of their face, as they’re looking at the fireworks,” he says. “There’s a bit of story — here’s a kid looking at fireworks — and that’s a hundred times more interesting than just a firework.”
7. Use a selfie stick
What was that incredible boom? No, it wasn’t an M-80 exploding in the sky — it was people’s heads exploding at the thought of a professional photographer recommending one of the worst gadgets of the year.
“I know people revile these things, but I actually like them,” says Northrup. In fairness, he recommends that people use a selfie stick to take unexpected shots, like getting a good angle over a crowd. He also suggests using the selfie stick as a monopod — a one-legged tripod — to help steady your shot. This is important when shooting in low-light situations, because the more you move the phone while the shutter is open, the blurrier the image will be.
Regardless, have a great July 4 holiday and be sure to share your pics on social media