Shooting Fireworks with an iPhone (Updated)

shoot fireworks with iPhone

We are approaching one of the best times 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 harder with an iPhone, even with the camera of the the newer iPhones and their improved low-light sensitivity. If you’re going to be shooting fireworks over the next few days, here’s my classic post updated, with tips to help you get the best shots possible using your iPhone’s camera.

shoot fireworks with iPhone camera
Shooting Fireworks with an iPhone camera (photo by @itsmestacy)

First, a little background on why it’s so hard to photograph fireworks. You’re shooting fireworks in extremely low light conditions, almost dark. The iPhone’s camera and lens really are not optimized to shoot in situations that dark.

The camera will automatically adjust to a higher ISO rate. This faster ISO makes the camera more light sensitive 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 or newer, 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 the 4th of July, home runs, New Year’s Eve, or Guy Fawkes Night. Bookmark and share this post. 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 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 long-exposure, low-light camera app to capture light trails

I get very good results using Cogitap Software’s Slow Shutter Cam. I started with an exposure of 1 second and also used the app’s Light Trail mode. In the app’s settings, be sure to turn on Auto-Save. Otherwise, Slow Shutter Cam makes you preview and manually save every shot, which increases your chances of missing another great shot. In my tests, I got a lot of good captures with Slow Shutter Cam, especially when compared to Apple Camera. The image with light trails above was taken with Slow Shutter Cam.

Other camera apps, such as 645 PRO and NightCap Pro, also have good low-light modes which allow 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.

Don’t laugh, but try practicing beforehand with a YouTube video of fireworks. Be sure the room you’re in is completely dark.

Use a separate exposure lock

Use one of the third-party camera replacements with separate focus and exposure lock,such as 645 PRO, ProCamera, 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 third party cameras mentioned in this post, specifically those with separate Focus and Exposure locks. Thank yous go to Twitter follower for this tip.

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. It’s much better to get as close as you can and then crop your images down.

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.

Try Shooting Fireworks in Video Mode

Newer iPhones have a very good 1080P video camera built in. You may get better results by shooting fireworks in video mode. From there, you can either select and save screen captures using a third-party app (I use VideoPix). Your screen grabs will save at 1920×1080 pixels — a decent 2.1 megapixels. Or, just share your videos straight to Facebook or Vine.

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!


Have you got your own fireworks shooting tips? Share them in the comments below.


About Marty Yawnick 1808 Articles
Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.
  • Kate Luong

    Thank you so much Marty, those are very practical and useful tips. I just wish I’d read this before New Year. I guess now I have to go to Disneyland to try them out!

    I have a small question though: In all the apps you mentioned, is there one that allows multi-shooting, or taking multiple pictures at once? I often find it easier to grab a good photo in quick succession with an app than doing it by myself. Thank you.

    • Marty Yawnick

      Hi, Kate,

      I’m sorry that you missed these for New Year’s, but at least you’ve got them now for the next holiday. Nice thing about fireworks is that there’s always some coming up….

      None of the Apps I tested would really work for fireworks in burst mode. To work really well, they all needed longer exposures, which often involved some fiddling with the settings.


      • Chris/interealtime

        NightCap will do burst (set it to JPEG mode, 2 second intervals and unlimited captures and you can just leave it shooting – remember to lock focus on something distant first).

        Regarding Slow Shutter Cam – it’s good for fireworks, but beware of the low-res output (it claims to be 8 megapixel but it’s really just 0.5 megapixels scaled up). It’s fine for instagram, but you’ll get very poor results if you want to print or view on a big monitor.

        It works differently to 645pro and nightcap, blending lots of video frames together instead of doing a long exposure. That means you don’t get the sensitivity of 645pro or nightcap, but you can fake very long exposures – set it to ‘light painting’ (might be the wrong name but something like that) and bulb mode for some pretty cool results.

  • Irunsjh

    I recently took a bunch of fireworks pictures using Hipstamtic, and they turned out awesome. I used no flash and the Wonder and Blanko options. The double exposure option allowed me to capture both the launch and the explosion in the same frame.