Fireworks were a touchy subject last summer. City dwellers complained about the near-constant eruptions of mysterious origin in their neighborhoods. Of course, we were in the midst of a pandemic that prompted many cities to cancel their official Fourth of July celebrations outright. This year, as the country returns to a semblance of normality, many cities have reverted to their traditional displays, rockets red glare and all. So you’ll want to be prepared—especially if you want to snap some cool pics.
First things first: There’s still a pandemic going on, with increasingly concerning Covid variants making the rounds. Even if you’re vaccinated, it’s a good idea to stay vigilant. If you do try to hunt down a good view of the fireworks, avoid crowds if you can, wear a mask, and maintain your distance from other people. (And, hey, if you live in a place that’s prone to wildfires or is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave, leave the launching of fireworks to the pros.)
Second, get to know your photo gear. A thrilling fireworks display can confuse the automated settings on your smartphone. The explosions are fast, dynamic, and bright, and they disappear just as quickly as they appear. But by standing in a good spot and tweaking a few settings on your camera app, you can take advantage of some battle-tested methods for capturing dramatic photos of those explosions in the sky. The latest smartphones even have some special settings for shooting at night. And if your phone lacks those features, there are a few apps that will help you nab the best shots.
Scout Your Location
Before you snap one photo, learn the lay of the land to help you gauge the best location to set up. You obviously want a clear shot of the sky, but look for a spot that lets you also capture a nice wide-angle view of the skyline or a nearby landmark. This helps with the composition, but it also visually place-tags your photos and makes them more interesting. If your local fireworks display is over a river or a body of water, find a spot that lets you incorporate the water into the shot; the reflections will add a sense of drama and scale to your shots.
There’s another thing you won’t be able to predict ahead of time: the wind. If it’s blowing toward you from the direction of the fireworks, you may end up with increasingly murky photos as the show goes on, due to the smoke. If that’s the case, take the bulk of your photos as early as possible. If the wind’s at your back, however, you’ll have great shooting conditions during the whole display.
The early part of the display is crucial: It’ll let you frame the entire show and take a few test shots to make sure your settings are producing the look you like. Plus, the early part of the show is the best time to get any wide-angle shots. Once the sky starts filling up with smoke, your views of any background scenery will be obscured.
Prep Your Phone
The rules of engagement are a bit different for a phone than they are with a full-on camera. You won’t have a zoom lens or deep manual controls at your disposal, and because phones don’t come with standard tripod mounts, you’ll need to pay extra attention to keeping it steady.
Here are the basics: