We see it every year: a tidal wave of blurry, unimpressive, hard-to-tell-what’s-even-going-on-here photos of the evening sky during a fireworks show. But not this Independence Day! Here are some solid tips for getting a great, Instagram-worthy shot.
1. SLOW DOWN THAT SHUTTER SPEED
The shutter (the part of the camera that opens and closes to let in the image of whatever you’re capturing—sort of like a window shutter!) needs to stay open for a few seconds to actually allow in the colorful streaks of lights. “That’s what a firework is: light that’s moving,” explains Kate Lord, a humanitarian photographer at KateLordPhoto.com. “You need to allow the sensor to capture that movement.” After all, if the shutter snaps open and shut too quickly, you’ll see a few embers in the air, instead of the full, impressive explosions in the sky. With an SLR, slowing down the shutter speed means manually keeping it open for a few seconds. On a smartphone, though, an app can do the same thing. Download a program like Slow Shutter Cam or LongExpo, and familiarize yourself with the settings before the big night. (Take some practice shots in the backyard!)
2. USE A TRIPOD
“To use a slow shutter speed without the photo getting all blurry and gross, you want a tripod so the camera stays still and isn’t moving,” Lord says. “You’ll have it open for a couple seconds and if you’re holding it in your hold, it’ll get shaky-looking.” Another cool tip if you’re using an iPhone: Use your headphone’s controls to snap the photo. Just plug in your earbuds, open the camera app, and hit the volume-up button on the headphones to trigger the shutter without directly touching your phone. (Voila—even less camera shakiness!)
3. CAPTURE SOME CONTEXT
“It’s nice to get some buildings or silhouettes of people to give the fireworks a sense of place or size,” Lord says. By capturing your city’s skyline, the other boats on the lake, or the trees of your hometown park, you’ll wind up with a photo that isn’t just a could-be-anywhere firecracker floating in the sky. Lord also suggests capturing your family as silhouettes in the lower third of the frame; from behind, you’ll see their shapes as well as the colorful display in the night sky above them.
4. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, USE THE BURST FEATURE
If you don’t want to monkey around with slower shutter speeds, simply pull out your phone and hold down the photo-taking button when a big firework is cresting in the sky. This’ll trigger the phone’s burst feature, which snaps a ton of photos at once. “That way, you’re more likely to get the peak moment than if you’re just taking one photo,” Lord says. “It’s hard to judge when it’s just the right millisecond to get a beautiful photo.” That way, you’ll end up with a bunch to choose from. Happy Fourth!