Capturing the sudden, intense colors of fireworks on a cell phone camera isn’t easy. In fact, most pictures you snap at night will turn out grainy, blurred, or washed out. But with the help of a few photography tips, you can freeze these memories forever.
Saving memories: flowers in the sky
I remember hot summer nights in Phoenix, where the only things that could relieve you from the 120-plus degrees of horrible that lasted well past sundown were gallons of sun tea and living in your backyard swimming pool. One year, it was so hot I didn’t want to go to the Fourth of July celebration.
My parents were going to watch the fireworks on TV, having their pick of shows from Cali to the east coast. They were fine with staying home. I refused to leave the pool, even to come in and watch with them. Evening turned to dusk, and I heard the snaps and pops of firecrackers, probably a few streets away. And then silently, directly above my head, a bright red chrysanthemum burst across the sky.
I’ve seen some of the best Fourth of July fireworks shows in the U.S. Like my parents, I’ve watched a lot of them thanks to a great TV package, with access to celebrations across the country. I’ve visited a few in person, and gotten some great shots while learning how difficult night photography can be.
But nothing beats that swimming pool. I floated quietly, watching flowers and rings dance above me, wishing I had a camera to capture it all.
I’ve learned some basic tips to turn your cell phone camera into something much closer to a digital SLR (you know, a real camera) and master night photography.
- Always use a tripod: Your phone works harder to catch flashes of light and color at night, and leaves the shutter open longer. The longer it’s open, the more likely the shot will blur if you move at all. Selfie sticks are good, especially if you can set them on flat, straight surfaces. But a tripod will keep you steady every time.
- Turn off the automatic flash: You want the camera to use the light of the fireworks themselves. They’re farther away than your flash can reach. Also, the flash overrides the need to leave the shutter open longer, so turn that thing off.
- Turn down the ISO setting: A high ISO setting does a great job of picking up faint details in dark places. However, fireworks create sudden bursts of light. So instead of turning the ISO up, turn it down to 100 or lower.
- Don’t zoom: This doesn’t mean what you think it does. Your cell phone camera’s zoom function isn’t zooming in, but rather cropping out the image around what you focus on. This means you’re losing that high-pixel quality.
- Stay on target: Make sure you’re focused on the fireworks, not the stage, barge, or anything directly in front of you. The best way to set this up? Use landscape mode, which sets the focus further out while keeping the shutter narrow. It’s like squinting to adjust your eyes’ focus on the fine print.
- Use Burst mode: This should be in your camera app’s settings. Not all Android phones have this, but if you’ve got it, you’ll catch several shots in quick succession—a great way to capture fireworks.
- For video: Don’t bloc the mic. Part of the joy of capturing the moment is hearing the sound of the fireworks blasting and the crowd’s reaction to them. So, be sure you’re holding your phone in a way that doesn’t limit its ability to capture the audio experience of it all.
- Remember filters. Depending on the phone and the apps you use, you may have access to color filters. If so, some of these could help you intensify the contrast between the night sky and the brilliant colors that fill it for the holiday weekend.
- Night mode or Fireworks mode: Yes, some phones actually have a Fireworks mode! It’s an easy way to improve night photos, automatically taking care of some of the settings I mentioned before.
- Remote shutter: You’ll avoid any chance of movement if you trigger the shot remotely. If you’re connected to a smartwatch, you can probably take the photo from there.
Top 5 fireworks shows
Whether you’re catching the show in person or getting your fireworks fix at home, it’s not too late to plan for this party!
5. San Francisco Fourth of July at Pier 39
Any view of the San Francisco Bay is a prime spot for this one. For a quiet, romantic evening, make sure your hotel room includes the bay view. If you’d rather enjoy the party up close, book a dinner and fireworks cruise for an incredible show.
4. Philadelphia Wawa Welcome America!
Yes, at a glance it’s an odd name. Dig into the history and learn more about one of the longest celebrations in the country. They host 7 days of free events with concerts, historical tours, an iconic fireworks show, and a lot more.
3. New York Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks
When bigger is better, New York is the place to be. The country’s largest fireworks show runs along the East River, offering incredible views from either side.
2. Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular
Featuring popular modern songs, classical arrangements, and patriotic tunes, the music of the Boston Pops orchestra is perfectly timed to match every firework blast and crackle. Want to get emotional about the Fourth of July? Thanks to brilliant choreography, this is the show.
1. Washington, D.C., A Capitol Fourth
Of course it’s number 1! There’s nothing better than Independence Day at our nation’s capital. This celebration begins with a classical concert and parade marches. It ends with fireworks above perfect backdrops: the U.S. Capitol and Washington monument.
This article was written by an AT&T employee. The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of AT&T.