How to take pictures of fireworks with your phone

With New Year’s on the way, there’s a good chance your phone camera is going to be trained on a bridge or the sky, waiting for fireworks. Here’s how you take those photos on your phone.

Almost everyone has a phone with a camera on it, and once the fireworks start firing, chances are they’ll all be doing the same thing with it: aiming it at the fireworks and hoping for the best image they can.

But you don’t have to hope for a good image, and once you have a few tips and tricks nailed, you can more or less get at least once decent shot with ease.

So how do you take pictures of fireworks with a phone?

Apple iPhone XR reviewed

Use the camera app you’re comfortable with

It might seem like common sense, but using the camera app you’re comfortable with is the first piece of advice we have to offer.

For most people, that will probably be the camera app your phone comes with, and you very likely haven’t installed anything else. No worries there, and that means the standard camera app is the one you’re comfortable with.

But if you’ve installed Camera FV-5 on Android or Camera+ on iPhone, or Lightroom on either Android or iOS, make sure you’re using the app you’re comfortable with for all the shots. It’ll ensure you have the right mode and settings, which helps make the winning shot possible.

Set up the shot

Setting up the shot is super important, and determines basically what the image is going to look like.

Do you want the fireworks from the bridge? The fireworks with the sky in the background? Or do you just want to zoom right in and get the arc of ignited gunpowder bursting into colour in the sky?

Determining that ahead of time will let you get the best shot you can, because you can frame the shot nicely and then just wait.

Remember that much of photography is about patience, with that patience being mixed with the balance of light and speed.

However most phone cameras won’t give you control of both, so let the camera app of your choice do the hard stuff like that balance, while you focus on the composition. That’s very important.

Know the composition you want? Set it up ahead of time.

Choose your mode

How you capture the fireworks photos is important too, and it’s something that will come down to the app you’re using.

Typically, you can leave the camera on its default settings and it will work out what to do. Fireworks are usually in the distance, so leaving the camera on its widest angle will usually work best, with the software doing the job of light and time balance often giving you the best result.

But if your camera app has an option for light painting or fireworks, try it out and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’ll be switching back to automatic mid-fireworks and letting the standard camera take over.

Fire the shutter using the volume key

Also important is firing the shutter and getting the shot, and it’s something you can’t always leave to the touchscreen.

Don’t get us wrong, having a touchscreen phone is great, but sometimes the delay between hitting the big circle on the screen and when the phone actually fires the shot can be infuriating. It shouldn’t be, but it sometimes is, and we’ve all been there.

Fortunately there’s a trick to help you get around this, and it’s one the selfie stick brought to light: the volume key.

You may not realise it, but when selfie sticks don’t have the Bluetooth remote to work from, they use a 3.5mm jack headphone connector to tell phones to fire the shot, and phones fire the shot from the volume key.

Yes, the volume keys are generally hardware shortcuts to firing the camera, so if the touchscreen shutter is taking too long to fire the shot no your phone camera, get around it by pressing your volume up or volume down buttons.

Apple iPhone XR reviewed

Take lots of photos

Many phones will have a burst mode, and that’s good, because it will let you keep firing the images until you’re done or the buffer in the phone runs out.

Your volume key may or may not let you do this — it did on Apple, it didn’t on Huawei — but the more times you press the shutter, the more your likely to get a shot that results in something you want.

Chimp later

There’s an old term in digital photography called “chimping”, which was the initial word digital photographers gave to people who stopped and gazed at the image suddenly appearing on the screen.

In the early 2000s when digital was still fairly new, spying someone chimping was a fairly common occurrence, because the amazement of an image suddenly appearing on a seemingly bottomless camera was pretty automagical. These days, though, not so much.

However, as common and normal as taking a digital image is, that still doesn’t stop us from chimping and gazing at the images when they come in.

On fireworks night, try not to do that. Try not to chimp. You can get a gauge on whether your photos are working as the camera captures them, and if you need to change something, that’s when you can do it.

Instead, take your photos and check them out after the show is over. That way you’ll have more opportunities to get some great shots in before the fireworks display ends.

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