The Fourth of July weekend is here, and if this one is like previous years I'm going to get a flood of people asking me how to go about photographing firework displays with an iPhone. Well, here's what you need to know to do just that.
Why am I only covering the iPhone here? Because outside of Canon DSLRs, it's the only camera platform I have any real experience with. However, some of the tips I offer here will apply equally to Android.
Word of warning
Before you get started, let me warn you that this kind of photography can be frustrating. So many factors are out of your control, and if you try to take things too seriously, you - and the people around you - are going to start hating life.
Chill. Enjoy the display, and look at any good photos you get as bonuses.
Sure, you can try using the standard Camera app, but there are a whole host of apps designed for long exposure and low-light use that are great for fireworks. Download them ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the interface.
A good one for beginners is iLightningCam because you just point it at the action and it does the snapping for you.
Free up storage space
You're going to need a lot of free space for your photos, so you may need to delete some of your music, apps, or other media.
This is where a dark room and some sparklers or candles can come in handy. Just be sensible and don't start a house fire. Alternatively, if the situation allows you practice with some real fireworks.
Using the camera really hammers the battery, so make sure you've got a full charge before heading out. You might also want to consider carrying a charge pack with you.
Scope out the venue
Get to the venue early. This lets you see how things are organized and get a good spot. There's a temptation to be at the front, but this can backfire if you are too close to the action because it can be hard to get a good composition.
My advice is to be far back. There will be less of a crush and you'll be able to take in the entire spectacle.
This is one of those "use em if you got em" situations. If you've already got a tripod and iPhone holder, take it along because you'll get better shots. Even something like a GorillaPod is better than nothing.
The downsides are that tripods are second to selfie sticks when it comes to annoyances, and you're going to get people bumping into your tripod at inopportune moments (unless you're right at the front or all the way back).
Be courteous, try not to annoy others, and just smile when others annoy you.
If you're going to use any of the long exposure apps listed above, a tripod is a must.
If you've got one of those Bluetooth remote triggers like you get with some selfie sticks - don't worry, I'm not judging you if you own one - and you're planning on using a tripod then this can help to dramatically reduce camera shake, resulting in better shots.
You can also buy the remote control trigger on its own for a dollar or so off eBay.
Turn off your flash
Don't be one of those people trying to illuminate the night sky with the flash on your iPhone.
Focusing on the action
The iPhone has a tap-to-focus feature that'll help you get better shots faster. As soon as you see a firework, tap the screen on it so the camera will begin to focus and then start snapping. You have to be fast, but once mastered this is one trick that'll help you get awesome shots of the action.
Don't use digital zoom
Zooming on an iPhone doesn't do anything other than cropping the image, which degrades the quality dramatically. You can do any cropping after the fact.
Horizontal or vertical?
If you're close to the action, consider holding the iPhone vertically (portrait style). If you're further away from the action, horizontally (landscape) might be better.
The stock Camera app on the iPhone 5s and on all have a burst mode feature that allows you to press and hold the shutter button and take a stream of shots. You could get some really interesting shots using this feature.
Just have fun. From experience I can tell you that firework photography is not easy, so don't beat yourself up if you don't get what you consider to be "awesome" shots. What you might think of as a poor shot will be an awesome shot to others, so don't be overcritical of your work.
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