If you're going to a firework display and own an IPhone then you don't need to be lugging round a heavy SLR. Out of the box, the IPhone 4 will take nice photos of fireworks. You just need to make sure you get the fundamentals right.
Step 1 – Find the right location
Finding the right location to take your photos from is important, get it wrong and you'll be left with disappointing photos.
Choosing the right distance from the firework display will vary depending on the type of display. For a public event with commercial pyrotechnics you ideally want to be as far away as possible. The fireworks are generally big spreading across the sky. You will be able to photograph more effects the further you are away.
When photographing garden fireworks, you don't need to achieve the same distance as their commercial counterparts as the effects are much smaller.
Taking photos of fireworks can be lonely, as you find yourself moving further away from your family and friends to get best possible photos.
It's common sense but you should always have a clear view of the display area - avoid standing near trees, buildings or telephone and power lines.
This one normally catches most people out. Ideally you don't want to be near any light sources as these will be visible in your photos and can cause exposure issues.
Step 2 – Turn off your flash
You will need to turn off your flash. This will reduce the shutter speed lag and blurring.
Step 3 – Lock Focus and Exposure
When taking photos of fireworks with a traditional camera you switch the lens to manual focus and if possible focus to infinity. With every new photo the camera will try to re-focus on the subject.
There are two problems here:
- The point of focus can be hit and miss. If you are shooting a large array of fireworks the camera will focus on the biggest and brightest firework. In most instances the focus point is never central.
- The second, which is annoying, is the delay as the camera tries to find the best point of focus. The amount of the delay is dependent on the amount of movement and light in the sky. The delay can be so long you miss your shots.
Not only does the camera re-focus with every shot but it also tries to adjust the exposure. This is great if you're taking everyday photos but not for fireworks. If you allow the camera to choose the exposure you'll find your photos poorly exposed.
The simplest way to overcome this problem is to lock both the focus and exposure using the AE/AF Lock feature. This is a new feature which is only available if you have iOS5 installed.
How to turn on AE/AF Lock
- Before the show starts point your camera at the area where the fireworks will be fired.
- Hold your finger down in the centre of the screen until the blue box pulsates.
- On removing your finger you will see "AE/AF Lock" at the bottom in white writing
Step 4 – Keeping your camera still
For the sharpest photos you need to keep your camera as still as possible, ideally by using a tripod. The slightest movement will leave your photos blurred and cause the effects to be streaked. No matter how steady handed you think you may be, your photos will come out looking like you have the shakes!
There are a few IPhone tripods currently on the market, but the Joby Gorilla Mobile Holder Stand for iPhone 4 has to be the most versatile. It operates like a normal tripod, but its flexible legs allow you to securely wrap it around other objects. In the past I have used tree branches, fences, walls and quite recently my car wing mirror.
Step 5 – Shutter operation
As mentioned in the previous step, your camera's stability is paramount and with a tripod you can still take blurred photos by pressing the shutter with your finger – even if you have the lightest of touches.
For those of you who have sausage fingers there are three solutions:
- Whilst using the tripod, hold the camera steady with your left hand and activate the shutter using the + volume button with your right. In most cases this helps to eliminate blurring.
- Remote Shutter. Belkin have produced a remote shutter for the IPhone, which allows you to operate the camera shutter by clicking a bluetooth remote. This is the best option, but is a little expensive if only used for one event!
- Use a timer. There are lots of apps available that will allow you to set a timer for the shutter operation. This is considerably cheaper than buying a remote, but you will have to pre-empt your shoot, which can be inconsistent. The app will also need to activate the AE/AF Lock feature - I've yet to find one that does.
Step 6 – Get Shooting
Now you're set up, it's time to start taking photos. Just remember taking photos of fireworks is not easy, even for a seasoned photographer. You won't take a perfect photo every time, it's a numbers game. Keep snapping away, you are bound to end up with some nice photos. Remember practice makes perfect…
If you're out taking photos this year whilst celebrating 4th July or Bonfire night, or any other event please send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll publish them in our photo gallery (coming soon).