The 4th of July is here once more (do you have your picnic ready? your playlist? your party decor?), wowing you with stunning fireworks shows and disappointing your social feeds with poorly captured images. But it doesn’t have to be that way—not this year, at least. We’re here to arm you with all the tips you need to take your best fireworks photographs—with just your phone—this holiday. Plus, the same logic applies for campfires and sparklers.
Adjust your camera settings
Turn off your flash and know your HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos will probably looks worse than your normal photos, which is the opposite of what you would normally expect. The reason? The iPhone’s HDR setting takes and combines a few photos to balance light and dark elements of pictures, which means it’s not great for moving objects like fireworks.
Practice makes perfect
Practice with the more tame fireworks in the beginning to get your timing right. By the time the finale happens, you’ll have a
clear technique down and will have had time to make any adjustments you need to capture the clearest, brightest photograph.
Use a tripod, kind of
If you’re doing long exposure, you need a tripod, or else the image will appear blurry (and no one wants that). Buying and carrying around a tripod probably isn’t high on your list of priorities for the long weekend ahead. Instead, rely on a selfie stick, a tripod-esque product like this stand, or resting your phone on a stationary object like a deck, fence, or car window.
Get a long-exposure
Slow your shutter speed to capture more interesting images. Try an app like Slow Shutter Cam, to get DSLR capabilities (like a slower shutter speed) to get light trails on fireworks and sparklers. Warning: If you go this route, it’s extra imperative you keep your phone steady, ideally on a tripod. Play with this app before the 4th—you’ll need time to learn how to use the app.
Play with framing
Play with different angles and including—or leaving out—a variety of things, like people, buildings, reflections in the water, and more. Don’t take the same shot over and over again, experiment instead. Having options is always better than having a single type of shot.
Don’t forget to edit
There’s no shame in adjusting your photos. Using your phone’s editing capabilities or the usual apps like VSCO, Snapseed (if you want to really edit), and even Instagram will do the trick. Whether it’s brightening, increasing the saturation, increasing or decreasing contrast, there are many ways to tweak the details of your photos to make them appear as amazing as they looked IRL.
An alternative to bad photos is good video. It’s easy to focus and adjust in real time and it’s much easier to capture the bright, flaming colors than it is in a single shot. Consider apps like Boomerang for an even more fun, looped video experience, or even the slow motion and time-lapse settings on iPhone.
This story was originally published July 01, 2016, it has been updated with new information.
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