UPDATE 12.30.12: I’ve updated this post with tips on shooting fireworks with the iPhone 5. Check out my updated post here.

Many of Life In LoFi’s readers live where there will be fireworks for the next day or two. I 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 the big ones that are shaped like Texas….

They 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 couple of days, here are some tips to help you get the best shots possible using your iPhone camera.

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.

Fireworks aren’t limited to the 4th of July. These are great tips to keep in mind all summer 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. you can mount your iPhone to a tripod using a Glif mount, a DiffCase, or many other options. The Hipstamatic iPhone case 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.

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.

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.

Try one of the long-exposure, low-light cameras for effect

Camera apps 645 PRO and NightCap 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 you can also get some great light trails shots.

Take lots of pictures

Fireworks photography on an iPhone 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.

Above all, have a safe and happy holiday. Look past the camera and enjoy the fireworks!


Got any other fireworks shooting tips? Share them in the comments below.


Fireworks photo by Joseph Hart