An iPhone Is All You Need to Capture Instagram-Ready Fireworks

By Jared T. Miller

Jul 4, 2014 10:03am

 

gty fireworks kb 140703 16x9t 608 An iPhone Is All You Need to Capture Instagram Ready Fireworks

The only thing better than finding the perfect place to watch fireworks this Fourth of July? Nailing a shot of the action that isn’t blurry, blown-out or pitch-black.

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But don’t worry about bringing the fancy SLR with you. Enjoy the holiday, and reach for the camera closest to you: the one in your pocket. Keep these tips in mind when shooting the nighttime displays, and you’ll have Instagram-ready masterpieces, instead of the duds unbecoming a tech-savvy reveler.

STABILITY

First thing’s first: The biggest reason for blurry photos is that a smartphone shakes easily when handheld. That’s not usually a problem in good light, but the problem is exacerbated in trickier situations like shooting fireworks.

The easiest way to ensure your phone is perfectly still is to use a tripod; but since this is an iPhone, and its portability is one of its best assets, why not pick one that’ll let you experiment? The <a href=”http://joby.com/gorillapod/original“> Gorillapod</a> is great for trick shots, as its natural tripod shape can be bent around railings and other stable, but uneven, surfaces. Besides cellphones, it’s also good for smaller point-and-shoot cameras and GoPro-style video cameras.

But if you’re not in the mood to spend, use your surroundings to your advantage. Prop your phone on a nearby ledge or lean back against flat surfaces to brace your arms while holding the camera. And if you need to angle your phone upwards, a wallet is a surprisingly useful tripod as well.

EXPOSURE

Though the iPhone’s automatic settings usually ensure great photos, it’s harder for the phone to do its job in low-light situations like shooting fireworks displays.

So take it easy on the hardware and tweak a few exposure-related settings. Turn off HDR shooting, which slows down the camera’s shooting ability. Turn off your flash, in this case it’ll have no effect on the subject of your photo (the fireworks), and will only throw off the camera’s auto-exposing ability.

And when the first fireworks go off, tap the part of the screen where the action is to set the iPhone’s exposure and focus; the less you move, the more that setting will apply to all the photos you take. You might have to reset it a few times throughout the event, but tapping the screen temporarily locks the focus and exposure to make your shots consistent.

TECHNIQUE

Now that you’ve got the basics of the technology working for you, there are a few issues with technique to keep in mind.

First, don’t zoom! Though it may seem like you’re framing the shot better, the phone’s digital zoom can’t get you closer without adding grainy artifacts to your shot, and making it harder to focus and hold the camera steady.

Also, avoid shooting frames with streetlights or other light sources in them; your phone will try to expose them correctly, and will throw the exposure of the fireworks off in the process.

Use the phone’s burst mode to capture several alternate shots of the same burst of fireworks, and you’ll have options to choose from when you check your photos afterwards.

POST

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the perfect shot on the first try. But most likely you’ll end up with well-exposed photos that need a bit of tweaking.

Now’s the time to zoom in on your favorite burst of color. Cropping the image after the fact, instead of beforehand using the digital zoom, will preserve the color and depth of the photo, and, except for extreme crops, will leave minimal static or camera noise artifacts.

If the color’s slightly off, the iPhone’s “Auto Enhance” feature does an admirable job of correcting exposure. Several other apps, like <a href=”http://campl.us“>Camera+</a>, also have robust sets of photo-editing tools.

But assuming you’re posting this photo to Instagram, the app recently introduced tools that allow for serious tweaks. Bumping up the contrast will help make the colors deeper, as will adding saturation. You can fine-tune from there using the “highlights” and “shadows” sliders, which affect only limited areas of the color spectrum of your photograph.

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