Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaign certainly helps promote the capabilities of what has been described as the world’s most popular camera, and they can also inspire iPhone owners to up their own photographic game. In the latest offering (via CNN), Apple partnered with 15 photographers around the world to capture the new year’s even festivities in cities ranging from Sydney, Australia, to Iceland.
But if the spectacular fireworks photos in particular inspired you to take your own shots next time you attend a display, you should know that there’s a little more to it than just pointing your iPhone at the sky and hoping for the best …
The first and most important thing to know about fireworks photos is that you need to steady the phone. Shooting in very low light, the camera shutter will be open for quite a long time, which means that camera shake is likely to transform those beautiful colored arcs into jagged lines.
Ideally, then, you want your camera on a tripod. If you already have one, there are low-cost adapters available to attach your iPhone. If you don’t, a GorillaPod that can clamp on to a fence or post makes for a flexible tool.
Here are some more tips for getting the best results …
For big public displays, get there early to stake out your space
The most spectacular fireworks photos feature the skyline – so it’s no use being twelve deep in a crowd. You either need to be at the front, with an unobstructed view, or somewhere up a little higher so you can shoot over the crowds. Doing a recce of the location in the daytime can help you identify suitable places.
Setting up a tripod anywhere you’re going to be hemmed in by crowds is tricky at best and banned at worst, so the ideal is always to find somewhere back from the crowds and up higher. With a Gorilla-pod or similar, you only need to get your iPhone above head height, which can be as simple as claiming a strategic lamp-post.
Switch on HDR
HDR takes multiple exposures and sandwiches them together. This is effectively a way of getting longer exposures and capturing more of the light-trails. Just tap the HDR letters at the top of the Camera app and select On.
Switch off your flash
By default, your iPhone will use your flash in low light. If the flash bounces back from nearby objects or people, that will totally ruin your shot, so manually cancel this by tapping the flash icon top-left in the Camera app and selecting the crossed-out flash.
Frame your shot carefully
Fireworks photos are most interesting when you can see the skyline, especially water, which can reflect the colors. You often won’t know exactly where the fireworks will be in the sky, but you can make your best guess. Keep the iPhone zoomed out to capture as much as possible.
Use burst mode or the self-timer
If your iPhone is held rock-solid in a tripod mount, burst mode is ideal, as you can take a whole bunch of photos and later choose the best one. But if the phone is held more precariously, this can result in camera movement.
One solution here is to use the 3-second self-timer. The obvious downside here is that you can’t choose the perfect moment, but often with big displays, with lots going on all the time, that won’t matter too much – just take lots of shots. I don’t normally advocate the ‘spray and pray’ approach to photography, but for fireworks – especially if you don’t want to put your whole attention on the photos – this can be worth considering.
Try a different camera app
The built-in Camera app is very good, but there are other apps out there that can do things Apple’s own app can’t. One good one for fireworks is Slow Shutter Cam used in Light Trail mode. You will definitely need a tripod or mount for this, however.
Finally, consider video instead
If you’re just looking for something to share on Facebook, a short video clip can be a better option than a still photo. Fireworks often look awesome in slow-motion: just select Slo-Mo from the options at the bottom of the screen in the Camera app.