Fireworks are fun to watch (and maybe even more fun to shoot off) but can be tricky to photograph, whether you’re using a traditional camera or a mobile device.
In lieu of the weekend’s events, here are some tips from Star photographer John Sleezer on how to capture fireworks successfully:
Cell phone photos
I have limited experience in shooting fireworks with a camera phone in still mode, but I have done video with a phone with good results by locking focus so the camera isn't always trying to focus on the dark sky and adjusting exposure to darken the overall picture, since the phone is trying to brighten the dark sky between bursts.
Set the cell phone to take HDR pictures and also set the phone to keep all the images taken that make up the final HDR picture. Sometimes one of the individual pictures look better than the final HDR image.
Another setting is burst mode on a cell phone camera. The phone will take several pictures in a row and then you can select the one that's best. This technique is good for the finale when there are lots of fireworks going off at the same time. The steps here would be to lock focus and lock exposure to a darker setting, set the cell phone on a steady surface and then use burst mode to record dozens of pictures one after another. One might look nice.
There are also apps available that let you take more control of the cell phone's camera.
A camera that has adjustable shutter speeds and variable f-stop capability, give the most control when setting up a camera to photograph fireworks. A good starting point is a low ISO (around 100) and an f-stop of f8. Slowing the shutter speed down and placing the camera on a tripod, chair or on the ground, will allow for slow shutter speeds without camera movement, unless you’re trying to be creative and move the camera around while the fireworks go off.
If you don't have a tripod, trying wading up a towel, blanket or jacket under it to help prop up the camera so the lens if pointing in the right direction. Having an interesting foreground can help make the final picture more interesting. Experiment with the shutter speeds from 5 seconds to 30 seconds. Fireworks trail off and slowing down the shutter speed will give a flower-like look to the picture. Short shutter speeds will create very thin looking and dark firework pictures.
Avoid trying to photograph the loud flash bang fireworks that go off and produce a bright white light and ear splitting sound. They will wash out the picture and cover up any interesting colors that preceded them. Use something dark over the lens, like a hat or coat, to control which fireworks are recorded during a long exposure. But, don't touch the camera when covering the lens. When you see a color of firework of interest, uncover the lens and then cover it back up after a few seconds, wait for another color and uncover the lens again. With a 30 second exposure, several different colors of fireworks can be included in the same picture. The key to this is experiment. Adding a flash from the camera in the foreground will light up the subject in front and a long exposure will allow the fireworks to be seen in the final picture. Just ask your foreground subject not to move after the flash.