Shooting Fireworks with an iPhone (Updated)
New Year’s Eve is nearly here and globally it’s one of the biggest nights for shooting off — and shooting — fireworks. I still love fireworks. Every time I see them, I’m in awe with childlike wonder. My favorites are the huge ones with long ember trails that seem to take forever to float down. And, of course, the big ones that are shaped like Texas….
Fireworks can be tricky to photograph with a regular camera. It’s even harder with an iPhone camera. If you’re going to be shooting fireworks over the next day or so, I’ve updated my classic post with tips to help you get the best shots possible using your iPhone’s camera, including options for the iPhone 5. >>>
First, a little background on why it’s so hard to photograph fireworks. You’re shooting fireworks in extremely low light situations, almost dark. The iPhone’s camera and lens isn’t really optimized to shoot in situations that dark.
The camera will automatically adjust to a fast ISO rate. This makes the camera more sensitive to light but it can potentially make your photos look noisy and grainy. It will also adjust to a slow shutter speed, making it more difficult to get sharp photographs without a tripod, but you will get some cool light trails in your photos.
The new low light mode of the iPhone 5 will almost definitely kick in, boosting your camera’s maximum ISO from 800 to 3200. This will make the shutter speed faster which is something you don’t want and will decrease image quality even further. If you have an iPhone 5, I recommend shooting with one of the third party camera apps below which will give you more control over the ISO and shutter speeds.
Fireworks aren’t limited to New year’s Eve, the 4th of July, or Guy Fawkes Night. These are great tips to keep in mind all year long.
Use a tripod or steady yourself and your iPhone.
Even on the newest iPhones, the shutter will probably be open longer than normal. Without a tripod, any movement at all, even the slightest, could mean blurry photos. The best tripod mount I’ve found for an iPhone 5 is the ANYCASE Universal iPhone Tripod Adapter. It’s an extremely versatile tripod mount that will work with any iPhone, including an iPhone 5 — with or without a case. You can also mount your iPhone 4 or 4S to a tripod using a tiltpod, Glif mount, a Diffcase or many other options. The Hipstamatic iPhone case for iPhone 4 and 4S even has a standard tripod mount.
Turn off your flash.
All it will do is bounce light back from anything that’s near you and cause unwanted light anomalies in your photo.
Use a separate exposure lock.
Use one of the third-party camera replacements with separate focus and exposure lock,such as ProCamera, Camera Genius, Camera+ or the free Camera Awesome. Lock the focus to infinity (or distance). Lock the exposure to the fireworks. The focus and exposure will probably stay locked for several shots. Locking the exposure on the fireworks will help hold the color and help prevent the colors of the fireworks from blowing out in your photos.
Lock focus on a distant object before shooting.
While the regular iPhone camera can do this, you’ll have better results using one of the thrid party cameras mentioned in this post, specifically those with separate Focus and Exposure locks. Thank yous go to Twitter follower Jag.gr for this tip.
Use a self timer set to about half a second.
This gives the camera a tiny bit of time to steady after releasing the shutter. All of the camera replacement apps mentioned have self-timers.
Even better, try one of the long-exposure, low-light cameras for effect
Camera apps 645 PRO ( $2.99 | ) and NightCap ( $0.99 | ) both have better low light capabilities by allowing the iPhone’s shutter to stay open as long as 1 second. Not only does this help bring out and hold the colors of the fireworks, but will also improve your chances of getting some good light trails shots. Allow plenty of time for experimenting.
I also got very good results using Cogitap Software’s Slow Shutter Cam ( $0.99 | ). I started with an exposure of 1 second and also used the app’s Light Trail mode. Slow Shutter Cam makes you preview and manually save every shot, which increases your chances of missing another great shot, but in my tests, I got a higher percentage of good captures with Slow Shutter Cam. The image with lighttrails above was taken with Slow Shutter Cam.
Don’t laugh, but try practicing beforehand with a YouTube video of fireworks. Be sure the room you’re in is completely dark.
Go easy on the digital zoom
Resist the temptation to use it at all. If you have to, don’t use it very much — not more than 2x. The more you zoom, the more your iPhone camera is susceptible to movement and the greater the chance your images will show blur. Get as close as you can and then crop your images down.
Take a lot of pictures
Whichever iPhone you are using, fireworks photography is hit-or-miss. In my experience, it’s mostly miss. Take a lot of photos. Most of them won’t come out well. The more photos you take increases the odds of getting more usable fireworks photos.
Don’t expect DSLR-quality images, but you still should be able to get some good photos for sharing. Above all, have a safe and happy holiday. Take the time to look beyond the viewfinder and enjoy the fireworks!
Got any other fireworks shooting tips? Share them in the comments below.