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Capture Fireworks on Your Phone: Tips for Getting it Right!

© Yasar Turanli /

Do you need a large camera and in-depth knowledge to photograph fireworks "properly"? Not at all! You can also take great fireworks photos with your smartphone. With the right settings and a few tricks up your sleeves, you too, can take beautiful pictures of New Year's Eve with your smartphone.

Table of contents:

  1. Requirements for fireworks photos
    1. Camera/smartphone
    2. A mini tripod helps
    3. Aligning the smartphone
  2. The right settings
    1. Pro mode is better than fireworks mode
    2. Enable RAW recording
    3. The right shutter speed
    4. Lowest ISO sensitivity
    5. Manual focus to infinity
    6. White balance for daylight
  3. Having the right timing is crucial!
  4. Avoiding camera shake while using a tripod
  5. I have no manual mode: What next?

1. Requirements for fireworks photos

1.1 Camera/smartphone

First of all, you need your smartphone (doh!). Alternatively, you can of course make use of these tips with your digital camera. Most Android smartphones come with a Pro mode that allows you to manually adjust focus, exposure time, and ISO sensitivity. Combine this with the ever-improving image quality in smartphone camera sensors, and your device is well-equipped to capture great fireworks photos.

Fireworks photographed with the OnePlus 5 still yields beautiful results.
This photo was taken with the pretty much obsolete OnePlus 5 in manual mode. The exposure time was four seconds and ISO set to 100. Due to the lack of a tripod, I simply pressed the smartphone firmly against a window pane. / © nextpit

If your smartphone (iPhone, *cough*) doesn't have a manual mode, try the app Filmic Firstlight (Android/iOS) or one of the other alternative camera apps listed in this article.

Many current smartphones also offer more or less usable modes for long exposures, for example, the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, many Honor and Huawei smartphones, or the latest iPhone models.

1.2 A mini tripod helps

For better fireworks photos with your phone, I would highly recommend using a simple tripod. This is because the required shutter speeds last several seconds, it is no longer possible to take sharp photos even with the steadiest hands. In an emergency, you can always lean your smartphone against something or clamp it as a makeshift solution, but then you won't have the full flexibility required when it comes to framing a shot. 

A tripod comes in handy for long exposure shots.
For long exposures, a tripod is a great help. However, if it's very windy, lightweight tripods quickly reach their limits. / © nextpit

An absolute classic among flexible and portable smartphone tripods is the GorillaPod from Joby, which you can also see in an earlier version in the photo above:

1.3 Aligning the smartphone

When aligning your smartphone, it is very important to ensure that you leave more space for the fireworks in the picture as opposed to having too little. This is especially important as many smartphones these days feature ultra-high resolution cameras, enabling you to crop the photo afterward.

I also recommend that you always include some landscape, such as a few buildings in the foreground, a hill, or a tree, to put the fireworks in context. If you manage to put an area of water (or other reflective things) between you and the fireworks, and you will be rewarded with spectacular results. In fact, even a puddle can look spectacular under such circumstances.

2 The right settings

2.1 Better use the Pro Mode than Fireworks Mode

Some smartphones and third-party camera apps offer special modes for fireworks or long exposure times that more or less activate settings that we suggested in this article. In some cases, they even stabilize the image while shooting, aiming to eliminate the need for tripods. But do these additions really work?

The first problem is that cameras only deliver JPEG images, which only offer limited editing options. And if the results don't meet your expectations, you have hardly any correction possibilities afterwards. Therefore, I would recommend you to shoot in manual mode or pro mode, which offers far more setting possibilities.

What if you do not want to use the Pro mode then? You can always jump to the corresponding section in the article: No manual mode: what now?

Most smartphones these days offer a Pro mode with manual settings.
Most current smartphones offer a Pro mode with manual setting options. / © nextpit

2.2 Enable RAW recording

Even though this is usually the case in Pro mode, you should make sure that HDR mode is turned off and RAW mode is enabled instead. HDR mode tends to cause ghosting in moving subjects, while RAW images offer far greater color depth and a better dynamic range. However, to get the most out of them, you'll need to edit the RAW files using a special app or software.

In our list of the best photo editing apps for Android and iOS, you'll be able to find several options that also support RAW photos.

With the right settings, you can capture some really great looking shots.
With these rockets, I was glad to have a pane of glass between me and the fireworks. The settings here were four seconds of exposure time and ISO 100 in manual mode. / © nextpit

2.3 The right shutter speed

In the Pro mode on your smartphone, you will be confronted with a variety of adjustable parameters. Getting the right shutter speed is crucial here. It determines just how many effects are ultimately visible in the photo. With a very fast shutter speed, you will only see individual points of the fireworks on the picture. Only exposure times in the range of one second up to several seconds can create beautiful light trails.

You can manually set the shutter speed on your smartphone.
The shutter speed in manual mode is typically marked with "S" (for speed). Here, values between one and eight seconds are usually useful for fireworks. / © nextpit

However, there is also a sensible upper limit here: shutter speeds that are too slow make for a photo that is overloaded with light trails. Typically, exposure times between one and eight seconds provide nice results.

Different shutter speeds will yield different results for the lighting effects.
Golden mean: Here you can see how the same fireworks sequence looks using different shutter speeds. We simply shot a video on screen to show you the effect of different shutter speeds on the same effect. / © nextpit

2.4 Lowest ISO sensitivity

The ISO value determines how sensitive the camera sensor views things. Here, you should set the lowest value that the smartphone offers. Usually, this is ISO 50 or ISO 100, but if possible, choose an even lower value. The light effects are very bright and will otherwise be completely blinding. If you have a smartphone with an iris aperture, like the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, then set the aperture to the highest possible value, in this case, F4.0. In addition, F8.0 is usually a good value for cameras with an iris aperture.

Vary the ISO sensitivity on your smartphone to capture photos with lower noise.
Low ISO sensitivities ensure low-noise photos. At the same time, they prevent photos from being overexposed at long exposures. / © nextpit

If you're really fancy, you can use a special ND filter for smartphones to limit the amount of light entering the lens and thus optimize colour reproduction:

2.5 Manual focus to infinity

The next aspect concerns focus, which you can also set manually on Pro modes. Set this to the "infinity" setting, often indicated by a mountain. This will ensure that the camera app is focused on distant subjects in every photo. Just don't forget to undo this setting after the fireworks photos, otherwise portraits, for instance, will all be out of focus.

Manual focus is the ideal setting when it comes to shooting fireworks.
"MF" stands for "manual focus". The small mountain symbolizes that the focus is set on distant subjects - which is perfect for fireworks. / © nextpit

2.6 White balance for daylight

For white balance, I would also recommend a manual setting, namely the one for daylight or about 5000K to 5500K if your camera app allows you to set a specific color temperature. However, since you're (hopefully) shooting RAW, you can easily adjust the white balance afterward.

Adjusting the white balance makes your photos come out looking better.
"WB stands for white balance. If you shoot in RAW mode, you don't need to worry about this setting. Otherwise, you'll be fine with the daylight setting. / © nextpit

3. Having the right timing is crucial!

Finally, getting the right timing is very important for successful fireworks photos. Usually, you see the ball bombs, etc., as a glowing trail that rises into the night sky, before taking around half a second until the explosion occurs. Hence, the beginning of the ascent would be exactly the right moment to take the photo.

By the way, you can practice the right timing: Just play a fireworks video on your computer or TV and try to take a picture of it. This will give you a feel for how different shutter speeds affect the final image. To avoid any nasty reflections, you should practice in a dark room.

Just four seconds of exposure time let me capture plenty of fireworks action over Berlin.
There was a lot going on in the sky over Berlin on New Year's Eve. Within four seconds of exposure time, quite a few effects were captured in the photo. Of course, there is always a bit of luck involved to end up with a nice selection of effects in the photo. / © nextpit

4. Avoiding camera shake while using a tripod

Even if you use a tripod, there is a risk of camera shake: namely when you press the shutter release with your finger. This can usually be avoided by using the two-second self-timer. However, due to the critical timing when photographing fireworks, this is not very practical here.

I would therefore recommend you to simply use a (wired) headset. Normally, you can trigger the camera app of the smartphone with the attached buttons. If that doesn't work, you may have to set your camera app to allow the volume buttons to be used to capture the photo.

The headset of a smartphone can also double up as a cable remote trigger.
Practical: A headset with a button also serves as a shutter release. However, be sure to check beforehand whether this works as desired. / © nextpit

5. I have no manual mode: What next?

Is it all too complicated for you? Or does the manual mode only allow very fast shutter speeds? Then modes with names such as "light trails", "long exposure" or the like will help you. Just browse through the camera app on your smartphone to see which options are available.

For instance, the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro (comparison) will provide you with the Long Exposure option in the so-called Motion Mode. In many of the current iPhones running on iOS 17, you can simply select the option "Long exposure" instead of "Live" in the upper left corner of the gallery to turn the short video into a stabilized long exposure.  The Night Mode in iPhones also takes photos with shutter speeds of several seconds, be it automatically or manually activated.

A lot has advanced over the years, especially with each new generation of software. The results of virtual fireworks that we photographed from a computer screen in a dark room were amazing. Compared to the previous year's generation, the iPhone 15 Pro running on iOS 17 delivered significantly better results in RAW than the iPhone 14 Pro with iOS 16. The same applies to the Pixel 8 Pro with Android 14: the long exposure mode is finally out of beta, and the results now look much more usable.

The Pixel 8 comes with a dedicated long exposure mode.
Unlike the iPhone 15 Pro (left), the Pixel 8 (right) has a dedicated long exposure mode that delivers slightly longer exposures and better results with fireworks. / © nextpit

However, the following rule still applies: With the manual mode or a corresponding app, you have more control over the final result. Here's another tip: simply test your smartphone's fireworks capabilities in advance with a fireworks video in a dark room.

What else?

By the way, the above tips are not only suitable for photographing fireworks, but also for light painting, for example, or for turning passing cars into long trails of light in a city photo. I am sure you will be able to find more scenarios to explore your creativity!

If you have any other tips for fireworks photos or any kind of feedback, I'm happy to hear your comments. Apart from that, all that's left for me to say is: Have fun with the New Year's Eve fireworks, take care of your hands if you're the one letting them off, and have a great start to the 2024 New Year!

Article updated on December 2023 with additional tips and instructions.

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Stefan Möllenhoff

Stefan Möllenhoff
Head of Content Production

I have been writing about technology since 2004 with a strong passion for smartphones, photography, and IoT, especially in the world of smart homes and AI ever since they debuted. I'm also an avid cook and bake pizza at least three times a week using my Ooni Koda 16. In order to compensate for all the consumed calories, I indulge in sporting activities on a daily basis while strapping on at least two fitness trackers. I am strongly convinced that you can DIY a lot of things if you put your mind to it - including a photovoltaic system and power station.

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