Framework

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Fireworks explode over the the Huntington Beach pier in Huntington Beach on July 4, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Fireworks explode over the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion as tens of thousands of people look on from the Grand Park Fourth of July Block Party in downtown Los Angeles on July 4, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Fireworks explode over the Huntington Beach pier in Huntington Beach on July 4, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Independence Day fireworks explode over the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, on July 4, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allsion Shelley / EPA

Fireworks light up the sky above the Brooklyn Bridge during Macy's Fourth of July fireworks show on Friday, July 4, 2014, in New York.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press

Fireworks explode over the Philadelphia Museum of Art during an Independence Day celebration, Friday, July 4, 2014, in Philadelphia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Fourth of July fireworks explode over the Mississippi River in New Orleans on Friday, July 4, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

Fireworks explode over the lagoon at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina celebrating the Fourth of July holiday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Fireworks glow over the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP

Fireworks explode over the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Fireworks explode over downtown.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman

Lightning flashes during Independence Day fireworks as viewed atop Mt. Washington.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Heller / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Fireworks explode over the Philadelphia Museum of Art during an Independence Day celebration.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Fireworks light up the Empire State Building along the skyline during Macy's 37th Annual Fourth of July fireworks show.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Minchillo / Associated Press

Fireworks light up the sky over the Lincoln Memorial and and U.S. Capitol building.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Fireworks light up the statue of Simon Bolivar during Independence Day celebrations.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

Fireworks illuminate the night sky over the Washington Monument during Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C., in 2012.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images

Fireworks explode over the Hudson River on July 4, 2011 in New York City.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mario Tama / Getty Images

Fireworks explode over Washington as the United States celebrates its 234th birthday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cliff Owen / Associated Press

A crowd watches fireworks over the lagoon at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Children spin glow sticks as a crowd watches the fireworks from Point State Park.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Wade / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Spectators watch fireworks explode over the Hudson River from 42nd street during Macy's annual Foruth of July fireworks show.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Kostroun / Associated Press

Fireworks as seen from Shoreline Village.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Fireworks over the Hudson River.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Seth Wenig / Associated Press

Fireworks light up the night sky behind the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press

Fireworks explode during a July Fourth fireworks show on the shore of Lake Michigan in 2008.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Darren Hauck / Getty Images

Fireworks explode over the Hollywood Bowl as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by John Morris Russell performs on July 2, 2010. The fireworks display is designed by Eric Elias.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

People watch fireworks at the National Mall on July 4, 2009.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: JEWEL SAMAD / AFP/Getty Images

Pasadena hazardous materials specialist James Whecker keeps an eye on fireworks launched from Brookside Golf Course at the Rose Bowl in 2008.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

People watch fireworks explode over the Mississippi River on July 3, 2008.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jeremy Portje / Telegraph Herald

This July 4, 2008, photo shows fireworks over the Manhattan skyline during the 32nd annual Macy's Fourth of July fireworks display.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mary Altaffer / AP

A fireworks display during the "Red White & Boom" Independence Day festival at Desert Breeze Park on July 4, 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ethan Miller / Getty Images North America

People watch fireworks at the National Mall on July 4, 2009.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: JEWEL SAMAD / AFP/Getty Images

Fireworks light up Dodger Stadium on the Fourth of July in 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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Photographing fireworks on the Fourth of July [Updated]

Since most fireworks photos are now taken with a smartphone, I decided to add some tips specifically for that style of camera. The cellphone camera is just so convenient to use. Who wants to carry around a heavy tripod and DSLR and stake out a location for hours on the Fourth of July?

4thpics5This year, I’m going to take a nice bike ride to watch the fireworks at the pier and take a few snapshots with my iPhone. While I’m probably not going to get great shots, they should be a nice representation of the evening’s events.

Smartphone cameras have improved, but since they’re shooting basically on automatic, the camera can be fooled by the bright contrast and dark skies.

Here are a few of my cellphone camera photo tips:

1. Turn off the flash. Those fireworks are a long way off.

2. Keep your camera steady while taking your photographs. In the simplest form it just means holding the camera as steady as possible and being careful not to jar the camera as you press the shutter button.

3. Bring along a mini-tripod like the GorillaPod. I recently took a look at the flexible version of a tripod. They are a good way of attaching your camera to a table, fence or post to help steady your phone. If you’re going to use a tripod with your phone you will need a way to attach it. Options include the GripTight Mount  or diff PhoGo Case.

4. You can use your Apple EarPods to snap the shutter. It’s one of those little known secrets, just press the volume + button on the side of the iPhone to snap a photo with the camera app or use the same button on your Apple EarPods.

4thpics45. There are some available apps like Slow Shutter Cam slow-shutter-cam-long-exposure or iLightningCam, which are supposed to give you a long exposure for such an event. I haven’t had much success trying them out, but will try again this year. Camera+  is a nice app that will give you separate focus and exposure lock controls. It’s probably best to stick with the standard camera app unless you have taken the time to practice and learn the others.

6. Since the phone may hesitate to focus, try using the AE/AF (exposure/focus) lock option if you have an iPhone.  It’s simple to use: focus and lock on the first burst of fireworks by pressing your finger to the screen until the yellow square blinks twice. You should also see the yellow AE/AF lock rectangle show up at the top of the screen. At this point, take your photo as the next batch of fireworks burst in the sky. Most new smartphones should have a similar option.

7. Remember to check your phone for storage space. The fireworks go fast so it will be a tough time to clear space on your phone quickly in the dark. I just cleared four gigabytes of space off of my phone, I didn’t realize I was running out of space. I back up my photos to the computer using Adobe Lightroom. Then I clear the photos out with Apple’s Image Capture software.

8. Try to get a nice angle close enough to the fireworks to fill your frame. If you need to zoom you will lower the quality with most cellphones.

9. Also, don’t forget to shoot some video. Still frames at 1920 x 1080 pixels will make fine photographs for Instagram or Facebook.

———————————–

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays to take snapshots. There is so much colorful pageantry with parades, red, white and blue decorations, food and vibrant pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks can be much trickier than normal holiday lights that are fixed and give you plenty of opportunity to vary your exposures and  compositions.

Also, it’s tough to pinpoint the location where the fireworks will explode in the sky, adding to the challenge. It’s fun to experiment and see what develops, whether you’re serious with your fancy DSLR or using a simple cellphone camera.

Don’t forget to include the pregame photographs, shots of your local parade, setting up with flags and streamers and the barbecue at your home.

This is a great time to include snapshots of family members and friends. Remember to clean off those cards and recharge you camera batteries; nothing is worse than losing power during the final pyrotechnic display.

Here are a few of my simple tips to achieve great photographs on the Fourth of July:

1. Use a tripod for high-quality photographs of fireworks. It is certainly possible to hand hold the camera and get some passable results but I don’t recommend it. Also, familiarize yourself with the workings of the tripod earlier in the day. Make sure you have all the parts and it’s working. I use a light tripod which is easy to carry and is convenient.

2. Use a cable release or a wireless remote to trip the shutter. This will keep the camera steady during your exposure.

3. Bring a small flashlight to check your camera’s settings at night. I can’t say how many times I forgot it and regretted it. It’s always so dark shooting fireworks and tough to see the knobs and controls on the camera. This might be the most important tip for success.

4. Manual settings are the best to shoot fireworks. Your camera is smart but this type of shooting situation can really fool it. Set your camera shutter speed to “Bulb” or the exposure speed that keeps your shutter open for an extended period to get several bursts.

Set the aperture at f/8 and the ISO at 200 as a place to start. Check the screen on the back of your camera after the first exposures and then vary your exposure to improve your photographs.

5. The most important tip I can give you is think location, location, location. Get to your venue early and scope out a spot. The position you’re shooting from is very important. Photography from the ground doesn’t always make the best photos. Moving to a higher location with buildings, boats, people or other interesting architecture in the foreground may produce a much better photograph.

6. Remember to keep a close watch on your gear. You’re usually in a crowded area where it’s very dark. Stay safe and have a great holiday.

robert.lachman@latimes.com

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3 Comments

  1. June 29, 2011, 11:59 am

    […] Celebrate the 4th ….And Take Some Great Snapshots […]

  2. July 3, 2011, 11:09 am

    If I get another Tweet, see another FB post or receive another photo-related email on "How To Shoot Fireworks" I'm gonna explode!

    Here's a hint NO-ONE has posted: Turn your camera around and take pictures of people's joy WATCHING the fireworks! And don't use a flash, it blows the mood.

    By: markkalan
  3. July 2, 2014, 11:26 am

    Also you need to be close enough that the fireworks themselves offer significant light. Otherwise, tripod or not, they'll tend to be blurry on most cameras.

    By: Terrence Peter

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