Fourth of July fireworks come and go year after year – but no matter how many times we’ve seen them, many of us are still compelled to pull out a camera and photograph the fleeting displays.
But, getting a good shot isn’t always easy.
Dailymail.com has put together a guide to capturing the best fireworks snaps, whether you’re equipped with a DSLR or simply a smartphone.
Scroll down for video
Whether your focus is the light show itself or the people enjoying it (or those setting them off), the experts say being open to experimentation is key. For smartphones, burst mode is your friend when it comes to shooting the fast-moving objects
Scout out a good spot
When it comes to photographing a fireworks show, it’s important to find a good viewing location before the crowds pile in.
This will help to get the best shots without obstruction, and scout out any landmarks – such as a statue or city skyline – that might make for a more compelling image.
Where you stand also affects the quality of the photos, as factors such as wind can make or break a shot.
‘Fireworks produce smoke and if you’re downwind from where they’re launched from, you’ll be shooting through a veil of smoke that’ll interfere with your color, sharpness and exposure after the first few bursts,’ explains Canon veteran Rudy Winston.
Set up shutter speeds and exposure
Make sure your camera is not set to autofocus, which can make it difficult for the camera to find the focus once the light-show starts.
‘Manually focus your lens at infinity,’ says Nikon photographer Lindsay Silverman.
‘When the fireworks start I tend to mark my exposures not so much by time but by the number of air bursts.
Most fireworks photographers use long exposures at slow shutter speeds, playing around with anything between one second and 30 seconds, according to Winston.
This creates the effect of moving streaks.
For smartphones, burst mode is your friend when it comes to shooting the fast-moving objects. To capture a burst shot – or many photos in quick succession – simply hold down the capture button.
Stabilize your shot
A tripod can be a helpful tool in capturing a fireworks show, allowing for clear images and preventing you from getting a tired, shaky arm.
If you don’t have a tripod, don’t fret.
Make sure your camera is not set to autofocus, which can make it difficult for the camera to find the focus once the lightshow starts. ‘Manually focus your lens at infinity,’ suggests Nikon photographer Lindsay Silverman
Use other objects to prop up your camera or to provide you extra support; lean against a wall or tree, for example, or set the camera on a still, flat surface and use a remote trigger.
‘Set it up so your camera’s brought up to eye level by the height of the tripod’s legs, not the height of the center column,’ Silverman says.
‘For maximum camera stability, keep the center column as low as you can.’
Make use of Live photos
iPhone users have a handy tool at their disposal to capture moving images without losing the full effect.
Simply switch on the Live option at the top of the camera screen (the series of small circles at the top-center) to capture a Live photo that shows the fireworks in action.
These can be used as stills, or played back in various sways, including a continuous loop.
When it comes to photographing a fireworks show, it’s important to find a good viewing location before the crowds pile in. This will help to get the best shots without obstruction, and scout out any landmarks that might make for a more compelling image
HOW DO FIREWORKS WORK?
Metal salts are packed into a firework as pea to plum sized pellets called stars.
After a firework is ignited, a lift charge propels the firework into the sky while a fuse slowly burns into the interior of the firework shell.
As the fuse reaches the core of the firework, it explodes.
The heat given off by the combustion reaction causes electrons in the metal atoms to be excited to higher energy levels.
Different metals will have a different energy gap between their ground and excited states, leading to the emission of different colours.
John Conkling, a professor of chemistry at Washington College, recently demonstrated the science behind fireworks in a video for the non-profit American Chemical Society.
‘Without chemistry, you couldn’t have the burning mixtures.
‘Without the burning mixtures, you wouldn’t have fireworks,’ Conkling said.
|Red|| strontium salts, lithium salts lithium carbonate,
Li2CO3 = red
strontium carbonate, SrCO3 = bright red
|Gold||incandescence of iron (with carbon), charcoal, or lampblack|
|Yellow||sodium compounds sodium nitrate, NaNO3|
|Electric White||white-hot metal, such as magnesium or aluminum barium oxide, BaO|
|Green||barium compounds + chlorine producer|
|Blue||copper compounds + chlorine producer|
|Purple||mixture of strontium (red) and copper (blue) compounds|
|Silver||burning aluminum, titanium, or magnesium powder or flakes|
Fireworks are a good opportunity to play around with different techniques.
Whether your focus is the light-show itself or the people enjoying it (or those setting them off), the experts say being open to experimentation is key.
Manually experiment with the focus, or use the fireworks to create light painting images.
Fireworks can also make for stunning silhouette shots, using the vivid explosions to back-light a closer object or person.