Fireworks light up the sky on July 4, 2012 in New York.
You know what's great about the Fourth of July? Flooding your Instagram feed with pictures of fireworks.
But snapping shots of those glittery spectacles is harder than it looks. They may be huge and colorful, but taking a photo of light at night is a tricky feat.
Don't fret — there are plenty of ways to optimize your phone or camera settings. We rounded up some tips on how to take the best shot, from experimenting with different camera features to trying out advanced mobile apps.
1. All-around pro tips
Here are some general things you should know before you take your Instagram-worthy photos:
- First things first, don't wait too long to take pictures. Once the fireworks get going, the sky starts to get smoky, which will cloud up your photograph, Mashable's photo staff says.
- Turn off your flash, and don't bother zooming in. That diminishes your photo's quality.
- Get a good spot. Make sure you're as close to the show as you can be. Then, scope out the landscape. You don't want anything blocking you from the full breadth of the light show.
- Don't be afraid to experiment with different positions. Photographer Dave Krugman, who has more than 93,000 Instagram followers, tells Mashable that including spectators and contextual elements can tell more of a story than an straight on shot. Here's one of his examples.
- Don't use HDR on your smartphone. The feature will just slow you down, because it takes long-exposure photos.
- Bring a tripod. Whether you're using a phone or a professional camera, you're going to need a steady shot. If you don't have one, make sure to grip your phone or camera with two hands and lean against something, like a tree, for support.
If you're running iOS 5 or higher on your device, you can lock your phone's focus and exposure.
Once your camera is open, tap the screen and hold it until a blue box appears. Remove your finger, and an "AE/AF Lock" message will appear at the top of the screen. This feature is helpful because it focuses in on fireworks and balances out their bright color and constant motion.
Next, test out an app. For $1.99, download Camera+, which offers all kinds of filters and features, including exposure, enhanced zoom and iCloud syncing capabilities.
Another app worth trying is Slow Shutter. It enables users to take longer exposures than normal, Krugman says. The app is 99 cents and has an exposure lock and a self-timer.
Since Camera+ is only for iOS, Android users should try Camera FV-5, a $3.95 app, recommended by The Wall Street Journal. It's an exposure king, allowing users to take photos with "exposure times of up to 30 seconds," which will give your fireworks some enviable light trails.
If you don't want to spend so much, try Camera FV-5 Lite, the free version of the app. It has a self timer and DSLR-like features, such as exposure time, aperture and exposure bracketing.
There's also Google Camera, a free app for phones running Android 4.4 KitKat. It has options like panorama, wide angle and fisheye, so you can experiment with your shots.
Camera ZOOM FX is also worth trying. The free app comes with photo filters, white balance, ISO levels and a touch-to-focus feature. Upgrade to the premium version for $2.99, and you'll get stable shots, a timer and grid overlays. It also has a "burst mode" setting, which means you can take up to 30 shots per second, which is helpful for catching the quick motion of fireworks.
4. DSLR or point-and-shoot cameras
Most modern cameras will have a "fireworks" mode under scene settings. That feature sets the camera focus and slows down shutter speed, according to Mashable's photo staff. Select that control ahead of time, so your camera will be ready to go.
If you're more advanced and enjoy messing around with camera settings, grab your DSLR and a tripod.
Set it in manual and make sure the ISO is at 200. Then, decide on your aperture setting. A wider aperture setting (f2.8-f5.6) will really capture the streaks of light in the fireworks (though, be careful, because this setting could let in too much light). A smaller aperture setting (f8-f16) will snap tighter shots and more color (though, that could also be a downside in itself, because it won't capture the scale of how huge fireworks are).
You should also use a trigger release or IR remote to take the picture. Mash's photo staff recommends taking the shot as soon as the fireworks start to launch.
Tags: ANDROID, APPS AND SOFTWARE, FIREWORKS, FOURTH OF JULY, HOW TO, INSTAGRAM, IPHONE, MOBILE, PHOTOGRAPHY, Tech, TRAVEL & LEISURE