Many of you are ready to capture the litany of 4th of July fireworks that will litter the night sky, but if you're using a Samsung, Google, HTC, LG, or another brand of Android device to capture the burst of fire in midair, it can get a little tricky.
While pro and semi-pro SLRs are the preferred choice of camera when it comes to fireworks photography (they can create some really spectacular sky creatures—even when they're blurry), what if your only option on Independence Day is your handy Android device?
A steady camera is not only essential, but almost required when taking pictures in low-light conditions, such as the ones fireworks tend to thrive in. The longer shutter release time mixed with the slight movement of your smartphone can cause blur (though, that's not always a bad thing). Unless you're a machine, it's almost impossible to stand completely still, so a tripod is a lifesaver.
If you don't have a tripod, there are many ways you can MacGyver one, including using a tennis ball or a rubber band. Or, just balance yourself and your smartphone against a tree or other structure in order to stabilize your movement.
If you're using flash, you're already fucking up. The flash that your smartphone emits is super weak, so if you think it's going to help you out when capturing fireworks, think again.
When it comes to zoom, it may look all right on your device's screen, but when it's blown up, you'll notice all the resolution that the picture has lost from the digital zoom. Unless you have a telephoto lens attachment for your smartphone, there's no zooming.
Finally, HDR should be turned off, because long exposure shots with HDR slow things down, which would ultimately not be suitable for rapid bursting fireworks. If anything, you'll probably get the "seeing-doubles" effect.
The stock camera on Samsung Galaxy devices comes with a multitude of settings which can help you when taking photographs of fireworks, but to access these, you'll need to set the camera to Pro Mode first. Camera apps for other manufacturers might have similar options, though your mileage will vary.
- ISO - This setting lets you adjust the light sensitivity of your phone's image sensor. A lower number means more light in your photos, but it also means more noise. Since fireworks are all light, we recommend setting this to a higher value like 400 to reduce noise.
- Aperture - This setting changes how much light is allowed through your camera's sensor. Adjust this after tweaking the ISO setting to fine tune the image brightness.
- Exposure Compensation - If you'd rather not balance ISO and aperture values, you can set both of the above settings to "Automatic," then use the Exposure Compensation slider to change how light or dark your pictures are.
Additionally, there are some options you might want to tweak in your camera app's settings menu. Again, we'll use a Samsung Galaxy for reference, but most phones should have these options.
- Picture Size - Select the highest setting for better image resolution.
- Save RAW & JPEG files - Enable this option to also save a copy of the RAW image. Great for post-processing.
- Tracking AF - This setting will automatically focus on any moving subjects (AKA, fireworks).
- Review pictures - Disable this option, otherwise you'll have to wait in between shots.
If you don't want to use your stock camera, you can download an application like Night Camera (free), which reduces blur effects and improves dynamic range, especially of pictures taken in low-light environments. Mess around with the settings and see what works best for you.
There's also an app called Lenx, which was made specifically with long exposure photography in mind.
Below are a few other tips that can help you this 4th of July (or any other day that revolves around fireworks).
- Location is prime. Stay away from other sources of light, as they can ruin the picture. You want the fireworks to be the only light source. Find a clear view, one without buildings or other objects directly around you that may ruin the lighting in your picture.
- Figure out your phone's lag. The majority of smartphone cameras have a slight lag, so figure it out so you won't miss the perfect picture.
- Make sure you have enough memory. You don't want your camera to stop working midway during the fireworks show.
- Video. When all else fails, videos still look pretty cool—and it's a lot easier to take videos of fireworks on your smartphone than it is to take pictures.
Leave social media alone. We get it. You're watching fireworks. So is everyone else. Don't post them to Instagram...unless you just really suck at taking fireworks pictures, then you may try out Instagram's and Vine's short video-taking features. You have my blessings with that.