The default Camera app on your iPhone can take some pretty incredible photos during the day, and newer iPhones can even make nighttime shots look good, but you can't just point and shoot if you want to capture some pretty spectacular fireworks photos on July 4th, New Year's Eve, or some other celebration.
Now, you won't be able to take the type of firework photos that DSLRs are great for, such as creating brilliant sky creatures by focusing during a long exposure shot, but with newer iPhones and the latest iOS version, you can at least zoom in optically, adjust exposure, and mimic long exposures. So before you head out to New Year's or Independence Day for the fireworks extravaganza, make sure to check out the following tips to take the best firework pics that you can with your iPhone.
Your flash will do nothing to help you out when taking photos of fireworks in the night sky. The fireworks themselves are all the lights you need in your pictures. With the flash on, you're only going to annoy people nearby you, and it will add shutter speed lag since it's trying to work in sync with the quick burst of light. So tap that little flash icon and switch it to "Off," not "Auto."
HDR, or high dynamic range, blends three different photos taken very quickly together at different exposures. There's the original photo at normal exposure, then there's one that focuses on the darkest areas and one on the brightest. The combined image is more vivid and detailed than the normal exposure alone.
Since fireworks move so quickly in the sky, taking three different photos in rapid succession will help to capture light trails, duplication effects, and blurs you normally wouldn't be able to capture without HDR enabled. Yes, if you want a straight-up clean and focused shot, HDR might not be for you, but you should still enable it just in case and see the next tip.
In the Camera app, tap on the "HDR" button, then select "On," not "Auto." If you don't see the "HDR" button, your iPhone is set up to take HDR pictures automatically whenever iOS feels it's necessary. To change this, go your Camera settings and disable "Auto HDR."
If you're not entirely sold on the idea of trying out HDR for your fireworks pictures, then you should make sure that you keep the original photo as well, not just the HDR version. Even if you want to use HDR, you should still do this since the regular version might still be better than the HDR one. Better safe than sorry.
To make sure you're keeping both versions, in your Camera settings, toggle on "Keep Normal Photo." When you go to check out your photos later, you'll notice there will be an HDR version and regular photo side by side.
Another thing you might want to keep on is Live Photos, which records a tiny video that you can watch when you press firmly on the photos with an iPhone equipped with 3D Touch. It also lets you choose the key photo that is given, so if you don't like the key photo it shows you, you can change it to something that's more detailed. If you have HDR enabled, then only the original key photo will have HDR properties, which means if you change the key photo, it won't be HDR anymore.
To enable Live Photos, just make sure the circular Live Photos icon in the Camera is yellow, i.e., turned on. To see if this something you want to continue using during the fireworks show, try it out a few times, then "Edit" the image. Tap-and-hold on the little white frame on the slider, which indicates that's your original key photo. Move that around to where you want, then tap "Make Key Photo" and hit "Done."
Your first few photos of fireworks should merely be for training your iPhone to take the ones you actually want. During these key moments, whenever you get a picture with decent exposure, you'll want to try to recreate what you just did but don't take the photo yet. When the next set of fireworks explodes, tap-and-hold on them in the viewfinder until you see "AE/AF Lock" appear. This also locks the focus, which shouldn't matter too much if you move around a little since the subject is so far away.
Once you've locked the exposure in, if you feel it needs a quick adjustment, you can do so by swiping up and down on the viewfinder. If anything, you'll likely want to turn down the exposure a little bit, rather than up. Turning the exposure down will give you better blacks in the night sky and gets rid of almost all the noise.
All iPhone models will let you zoom in on a subject in the Camera app, but should you? If it's digital zoom, no. You'll only get blurry, grainy photos that will haunt you until you delete them. However, if you have an iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, or iPhone X, feel free to experiment with the 2x optical zoom option.
When it comes to fast-moving subjects, taking more photos is always better than fewer photos. If you concentrate too hard on just one shot and it turns out bad, then you wasted your opportunity to capture something amazing by shooting multiple pics. Sure, you may end up with 100 photos in a one- or two-minute time span, but you can always go back and keep only the really awesome ones.
To help you take more photos faster, use the Camera's built-in burst mode. To do so, hold down on the shutter button or one of the volume buttons, and it will automatically begin taking photo after photo in rapid succession. Let go when you want to stop. Burst photos do not clog up your photo library since they are all combined into a folder with one image as its thumbnail, which helps keep things tidy.
If you're not getting the results you want with photos, try changing over to video form. This way, you can steal a frame from one of them as a regular photo. Basically, just screenshot the video and crop and edit it accordingly.
To get really clear fireworks photos, keep your iPhone as steady as possible, especially when using the 2x optical zoom. Find something to place your iPhone so your shaky hands aren't the only support. You could also try propping your body up against a tree or similar object to steady yourself and your arms. There are a ton of different things you could try out, so I'll leave that up to you to play around with.
If you really want to keep things steady, there's no better way than with a tripod. There are tons of iPhone tripods on Amazon. If you don't want to wait for shipping, Best Buy and other local retailers will probably have a smartphone tripod or two.
Some tripods even come with a wireless Bluetooth shutter remote, like UBeesize's small flexible tripod and Fotopro's 40-inch tall aluminum tripod. All of these should come with a mount adapter that would also work with more professional tripods for DSLRs and the like.
If you're trying to keep things steady without a tripod, or even if you have a tripod but don't have a functional Bluetooth remote (they don't all work), you can use the wired headphones that came packaged with your iPhone, whether they are the newer EarPods or the old-style Earphones or Earbuds. As long as they have a built-in remote, you can use the volume buttons it to snap photos via the Lightning port.
Even better, if you have an Apple Watch, you can use that as a remote shutter. It works much better than crappy third-party remotes that come with tripods and isn't wired into your iPhone, so there's no tripping hazard or tangled mess to deal with in the dark.
For those of you experimenting with Live Photos, it has a bonus — you can turn them into long exposures as long as you're running iOS 11 and higher. After you take your photos, go check out your "Live Photos" folder in the Photos app, then choose one. After that, swipe up on the screen to access the Live Photo effects, which include Loop, Bounce, and the one we want, Long Exposure.
The "Long Exposure" effect uses software to simulate a long exposure, which will blur things out and create "bright streaks across the night sky," as Apple puts it. In my experience, this works better if there's a stationary object in the foreground and you used a tripod. Either way, you might just end up with something great you never thought possible with your iPhone.
The default Camera app can't do everything, so you'll want to play around with a few third-party apps to see if you can create some cool fireworks effects or get more manual control over your photos.
Slow Shutter Cam ($1.99) from Cogitap Software has been mentioned time and time again when it comes to creating motion blur and light trails. Halide ($5.99) from Chroma Noir will give you more control over your capture settings and lets you take RAW images, plus there are some cool things to play around with like "Depth Capture." These are just a few of the hundreds of photo apps that can play with.
If you can't seem to get any good photos of fireworks, you could also always fake it with apps such as Fireworks FX ($0.99), which lets you add fireworks to the background of any photo you have, making it appear as night even in day shots.
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