To avoid spamming your Instagram with blurry, boring images of fireworks, take over your camera controls, turn off your flash, slow down your shutter and increase your film speed … or put your phone away
It is a curse of the modern age that you can’t enjoy a live event without people around you watching it on their phone screens rather than looking at it directly. Firework displays are no exception, where beautiful, ephemeral explosions in the sky are made to last for ever in the form of blurry images and jerky videoclips, never looked at again.
If you insist on spamming your Instagram story with the local display, these tips will help you get the best images of fireworks that you can.
“The thing I see the most is people leaving their flash on,” says the photographer David Levene. “That’s not just with fireworks, but with anything at night. Flash does nothing for any kind of night scene; it just confuses the camera. So, manually switch off your flash.”
But taking proper control of your phone’s settings will make the biggest difference. Apps such as Adobe Lightroom CC or VSCO have Android and iOS versions and allow you to adjust the camera setup and shoot in Raw format.
“One of the key things in shooting anything in difficult circumstances is having the Raw file,” says Levene, “because it allows you to process the image and do much more with it when you get it back on the computer. For fireworks, slow down the shutter speed to one or two seconds and increase the film speed so you don’t get underexposed images.
“After that, it’s all down to what you want to do creatively. At the end of a display, as they all go up together and go ‘Bang!’, you don’t need to leave the shutter open for very long, because you’ve got a sky full of light. But if you want to catch a rocket going all the way up, you’re going to have to use a slow shutter speed to be able to capture that – and find somewhere stable to rest the phone, to avoid camera shake.”
But don’t forget that the beauty of a firework display – if we can ignore for a moment the toxins being pumped into the atmosphere – lies not just in the colours and shapes in the sky, but in the smell and the sound, neither of which are particularly well captured on your mobile device.
So, instead of pointing your phone at the sky, just point your face at it instead, embrace the moment and join in the “oohs!” and “aahs!” with the rest of us.