The Fourth of July provides an annual chance to test our phone photography skills.
Apple’s iPhone and some of the higher-end Android devices, such as the Galaxy S8 and Pixel XL, all capture really good low light photos with ease. It’s when bright lights, such as fireworks, streak across an otherwise dark landscape that it becomes difficult to consistently capture the shot.
Don’t get frustrated! Keep practicing, and keep the tips listed below in mind as you try to up your firework photography game this year. If you’re looking for tips to get the most out of a dedicated camera,
Take advantage of different shooting modes
Even though it may not feel like it, the iOS camera app has a healthy selection of options and modes with which you can experiment.
Find a good spot to place your phone, start a time-lapse and capture a long firework show with very little effort. Or use the slow-motion setting to record a video of a colorful blast streak across the sky.
Take a panorama photo, but instead of scanning across the horizon, turn your phone to the side and take a vertical panorama. Start with the ground, and end in the sky where the main show is taking place.
Oh, and of course, Burst Mode is a quick way to capture a lot of pictures in a short amount of time. Launch the Camera app and hold the shutter button. Then go back and pick the shot you like best out of the bunch.
Take hands-free pics
When using an iPhone, you have a couple of different options for a remote shutter.
iPhone users can use an Apple Watch to take a photo. Or if you don’t have an Apple Watch, connect a pair of headphones and use the volume button to trigger the camera.
By using a remote shutter, you ensure the phone is completely still when a picture is taken. This is particularly important when taking long exposure shots, where every shake and tremor is recorded.
Not only does it help eliminate any jitters, but it also means you can leave your phone set up to take the shot while spending time next to your friends and family instead of babysitting your phone and watching fireworks through the camera app. Just tap the shutter button on your watch, or press a button on some headphones to take pics while keeping your eye on the show.
Don’t be afraid to use apps
There are a lot of apps that add to a phone’s camera capabilities. For example, the iOS app Slow Shutter Cam gives you the proper settings to take long-exposure photos.
iOS 11 has some tricks up its sleeve
Apple has yet to fully release iOS 11, but it is available as part of a public beta. It’s not something you should install on your main device.
However, if you’ve opted to take the plunge early, there are some really cool new Live Photos features that are sure to improve firework photos. As we covered here, there are three new filters that transform a Live Photo. The first two, Loop and Bounce, could lead to some interesting firework creations.
But it’s the new Long Exposure filter that will make it almost too easy to turn a boring photo into something that you’re proud of.
To get the most out of the new Long Exposure Live Photo filter, make sure to prop your iPhone or use a tripod of sorts, along with a remote shutter.
What the pros say
Photographer Kevin Lu recommends turning off your iPhone’s flash when shooting fireworks. Doing so will prevent any delay between pressing the shutter button and when the photo is actually taken. Lu also suggests locking the focal point of the iPhone’s camera to a spot between you and where the fireworks are.
With focus locked, you can then adjust the exposure by sliding your finger up or down on the screen. Most likely you’ll want to decrease the exposure by sliding your finger down, which should prevent the fireworks from being washed out.
Another photographer, Katja Sherlock, is a fan of Slow Shutter Cam’s light trails shooting mode for capturing fireworks. She recommends setting the shutter speed to one or two seconds in the app, then using a remote shutter such as your watch or the timer in the app for the best results.
What about Android?
Most of these tips apply to Android phones as well. Most Android phones have similar shooting modes for burst shots or slow motion. Samsung’s Galaxy phones have a selection of shooting modes you can download from the Galaxy Apps store.
For long-exposure shots, if your phone has a manual shooting mode, turn down the ISO setting to around 100 and adjust the shutter time anywhere from 1 second up to 30 seconds. Don’t want to fuss with manual mode? Download Camera FV-5.