How to take photos of fireworks with your smartphone

How to take photos of fireworks with your smartphone

To photograph a fireworks display "correctly", you need a big camera and a lot of knowledge? No way! You can also take great fireworks photos with your smartphone. With the right settings and a few tricks, you can also take nice pictures of New Year's Eve with your mobile phone.

What do you need?

1. Your smartphone's camera

First, of course, you need your smartphone. Alternatively, you can of course also implement these tips with your digital camera. Practically all Android smartphones offer a Pro mode in which you can manually adjust focus, exposure time and ISO sensitivity. In combination with the ever-better image quality, your smartphone is well equipped for successful fireworks photos.

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This photo was taken with the aged OnePlus 5 in manual mode. The exposure time was four seconds, the sensitivity was ISO 100. Due to the lack of a tripod, I simply pressed the smartphone firmly against a window. / © NextPit

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 from this article.

2. A mini tripod

I would highly recommend a simple tripod. Because with the required shutter speeds of several seconds, it is no longer possible to take sharp photos even with the calmest hands. In case of an emergency, you can lean your smartphone somewhere or clamp it temporarily, but then you don't have the full flexibility regarding the picture detail.

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A tripod is a great help for long exposures. When it is very windy, however, light tripods quickly reach their limits. / © NextPit

3. Align your smartphone correctly

When aligning the smartphone, it is very important to make sure that you leave a little too much space for the fireworks rather than too little space in the picture. Especially in times of ultra-high-resolution smartphone cameras, you can still crop the photo later.

In addition, I recommend that you always show some landscape, for example, a few buildings in the foreground, a hill or a tree. So you put the fireworks into context. If you manage to bring a water surface (or other reflective things) between you and the fireworks, you will be rewarded with spectacular reflections.

The right camera settings

1. Use pro mode rather than fireworks mode

Some smartphones and third-party camera apps already offer fireworks modes that essentially enable the settings we suggested in this article. However, the cameras here usually deliver JPEG images, which offer only limited processing options. And if the results don't meet your expectations, you will have fewer correction options later. I would therefore recommend that you photograph in manual mode or Pro mode, which offers many setting options.

AndroidPIT Firework Photos Pro Mode
Most current smartphones offer a Pro mode with manual setting options. / © NextPit

2. Activate RAW recording

Although this is usually the case in Pro mode, you should make sure that HDR mode is turned off and RAW mode is enabled. The HDR mode can be used to ghost moving subjects, and RAW shots offer much greater color depth and dynamics. To get the most out of your RAW files, however, you need to use a special app or software called a RAW converter.

We have already dealt with RAW photos and smartphones elsewhere.

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With these rockets, I was glad there was a pane of glass between me and the fireworks. The settings in manual mode were four seconds of exposure time and ISO 100 each. / © NextPit

3. The correct shutter speed

In Pro mode on your smartphone, you'll be confronted with a variety of parameters. The decisive factor here is the shutter speed. It determines how many effects are ultimately visible in the photo. With a very short shutter speed you will only see single dots of the fireworks on the picture. Only exposure times in the range from one second up to several seconds show beautiful traces of light.

AndroidPIT Firework Photos Shutter Speed
The shutter speed is typically marked "S" in manual mode. Values between one and eight seconds are usually useful for fireworks. / © NextPit

However, there is also a sensible upper limit here: too long shutter speeds cause a photo to be overloaded with traces of light. Exposure times between one and eight seconds usually provide beautiful results.

Here you can see how one and the same fireworks sequence looks like with different shutter speeds. We have simply photographed a video on the screen to show you the effects of different exposure times on the same effect. / © NextPit

4. Lowest ISO sensitivity

The ISO value determines how sensitively the camera sensor is read. Here you should set the lowest value that the smartphone offers, usually ISO 50 or ISO 100, but also lower. The light effects are very bright and are otherwise completely over-illuminated. If you have a smartphone with iris diaphragm like the Samsung Galaxy S10, then set the f-number to as high a value as possible, in this case F2.4.

AndroidPIT Firework Photos ISO
Low ISO sensitivity ensures low-noise photos. At the same time, they ensure that photos are not overexposed during long exposure times. / © NextPit

If you are completely fancy, you can limit the amount of light entering the lens with the help of a special ND filter for smartphones.

5. Manual focus on infinity

The next aspect is the focus, which you can also set manually in the Pro modes. Sets it to the setting "infinite", often marked by a mountain. This ensures that the camera app is focused on distant subjects for every photo. Just don't forget to undo this setting after the fireworks photos, because otherwise, for example, all portraits become blurred.

AndroidPIT Firework Photos Manual Focus
"MF" stands for manual focus. The small mountain symbolizes that the focus is on distant motifs - just right for fireworks. / © NextPit

6. White balance in daylight

For the white balance I would also recommend a manual setting, namely for daylight or about 5000K to 5500K, if your camera app allows you to set a certain color temperature. After (hopefully) photographing RAW, you can adjust the white balance later.

AndroidPIT Firework Photos White Balance
"WB stands for White Balance. If you shoot in RAW mode, you don't need to worry about this setting. Otherwise you drive well with the daylight setting. / © NextPit

The right timing decides!

After all, the right timing is very important for successful fireworks photos. Usually you see the ball bombs etc. rise as a glowing track into the sky - then it takes about half a second until the effect explodes. So this would be just the right moment to take the picture.

By the way, you can also practice the right timing: play a fireworks video on your computer or television and try to photograph it. This gives you a feel for how different shutter speeds affect the final image. To avoid reflections, you should practice in a dark room.

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There was a lot going on in the skies over Berlin on New Year's Eve. Within four seconds of exposure time, several effects have landed on the photo. A little luck is of course always there whether a nice selection of effects lands on the photo. / © NextPit

Avoiding camera shakes

Even if you are using a tripod, there is a risk of camera shake: when you press the shutter button with your finger. This can usually be avoided by using the two-second self-timer, but due to the critical timing, this is not particularly practical.

I would therefore recommend that you simply use a cable headset. Usually you can use the buttons attached here to trigger the camera app of your smartphone. If this does not work, you may have to set your camera app to allow the volume keys to be used to trigger the photo.

fireworks headset trigger
A headset with a button also serves as a cable remote trigger. / © NextPit

No manual mode - what now?

Is this all way too complicated for you? Or the manual mode allows only very short shutter speeds? Then modes with names like "Light Trace", "Long Exposure" or the like can help. Just browse through the camera app of your smartphone to see which options are available to you.

By the way, the above-mentioned tips are not only suitable for the photography of fireworks, but also for light painting, for example, or to transform cars passing by in a city photo into long traces of light. And I'm sure you'll find more scenarios!

If you have any more tips for fireworks photos or any kind of feedback, I'm looking forward to your comments. Apart from that, all I can say is: Have fun with the New Year's fireworks, watch your fins and slide well into the new year!

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  • Sana Afreen Dec 29, 2017 Link to comment

    Very nicely explained. These days, there are so many phones that have digicam like camera quality. Thanks a lot for sharing this info. Great article.. Keep up the good work...