The night the skies in the United States will soon burst into the flaming colors of red, white, and blue. And whether you’re at one of the biggest and Best Fireworks Shows or at your hometown display, as I will be, you will want to take memorable photos to share on social media.
“Firework photography is like the fish that got away. Every summer (or New Year’s Eve), you think you’ve finally mastered your smartphone camera chops to snap a magnificent cascade of falling sparks, only to be left with a camera roll full of blurs,” says TIME.
You don’t have to be an accomplished photographer or even have fancy DLSR equipment. Most of us will be snapping photos with our phones. In my case, an iPhone.
Here are 5 ways to capture incredible fireworks photos with your iPhone.
1. Turn off Flash
The flash will ruin firework photos. If it’s on auto, be sure to switch it to the off mode.
“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 to TIME. “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. Enable HDR & Keep Original Version
HDR takes multiple photos at different exposures, then automatically combines them together into a single image. For shooting fireworks, HDR is especially helpful in capturing brilliant fireworks photos because the images HDR takes often captures light-trails and other details that a single image may not.
In the camera app, tape “HDR Off” button until a highlighted “HDR On” appears on your screen.
Be sure to keep the original photo to compare it to the HDR photo. To be sure you are also keeping the original photo, check your phone settings. Settings > Photos & Camera > Keep Normal Photo.
Experiment early in the fireworks show to determine whether the HDR photos are turning out better or you’re liking the original photos better. If you like he latter, turn HDR off because sometimes HDR is bad for contrasts and of course, the night sky is full of contrast.
3: Use Exposure Lock for Optimal Lighting
Northrup also advises to use 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.”
Once you get a picture or two that you’re happy with, use Exposure Lock to lock in the exposure details so that your future fireworks shots will come out just as good.
Exposure Lock is super easy to enable, just tap and hold on the camera screen in the region where you want to lock the exposure and lighting to. You’ll know it’s on when “AE/AF LOCK” appears at the top of the Camera screen in yellow.
4. Use a Selfie Stick
“I know people revile these things, but I actually like them,” says Tony Northrup, a Waterford, Conn.-based photographer and author of How to Create Stunning Digital Photography. 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.
5. Try Burst Mode
The iPhone Burst Mode takes many photos in rapid succession, which is great for moving objects. As soon as you hear the firework shoot off, you can hold down the shutter and take a burst of photos back to back to back as long as you hold the shutter. The video below shows you how.
6. Capture More than Just Fireworks
Northrup says, “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.”
Be sure to edit your finished photo. In the edit mode of your iPhone, reduce the contrast and make the shadows brighter. Use the saturation to amp up the color, but use it sparingly. Finally, crop.