Tips for photographing those July 4 fireworks

After a few years of pandemic disruption, people are once again turning out to see the gorgeous spectacle that is a fireworks show.

And while most of them will be shoulder to shoulder and living in the moment, others will try to preserve that moment with a smartphone.



But it’s not as easy as shooting a selfie with your bestie. A number of factors make it challenging, even for the most experienced photographers: the unpredictable timing of those bombs bursting in air; the brief amount of time to get the shot; and, last but certainly not least, the lack of light.

Fortunately, tech advances continue to make things easier for both the professional and the novice alike. Here are some suggestions — aggregated from the farthest reaches of the World Wide Web — as you get ready for the big night.

Just buy a tripod already. It will keep things steady and ensure a clear shot, and it will enable you to make the most of features such as time-lapse video or Burst Mode. They don’t cost that much, either, if you’re just using a smartphone. This one runs for around $20 on Amazon, and it doubles as a selfie stick. Amazing.

Know how you want the shot framed. D.C., of course, offers plenty of monuments that provide a great background for the action above. Strategizing on that vantage point could result in something you want to frame. Try looking for a vantage point that puts the fireworks in front of you, rather than above you.

National Park Service spokesperson Mike Litterst said this year, the fireworks will be launched from both sides of the Reflecting Pool. That means West Potomac Park will be open, as will “the area between the Jefferson Memorial past the FDR Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial center.”

Be ready for all the smoke. Where there are fireworks, there is smoke, and it will get worse with every glorious detonation. So a clear, perfect shot will be easier to take early in the show.

Turn off the flash. It will only ruin the shot and annoy anyone around you.

If you’ve got a telephoto lens, use it to get more-detailed shots. This applies not only to owners of a proper camera, but also to owners of some smartphones that actually have a telephoto lens

Keep in mind, though, that the feature is not as robust as a telephoto lens for a proper camera. Also keep in mind that the zoom feature on a smartphone’s camera app is a different animal altogether, and will only result in something quite pixelated.

Make sure the camera app is not in High Dynamic Range mode. HDR is more suited for variable light situations and will only result in blurred photos if you use it in this particular instance.

Here’s how to deactivate HDR on an iPhone, and here’s how to deactivate it on the Google Camera app.

Nighttime is the right time for Night Mode. This one is kind of a no-brainer, but now you definitely know. And a tripod will really help ensure the shot is sharp.

Here’s how to activate night mode on an iPhone, and here’s how to activate it on the Google Camera app.

Check out Top Shot/Burst Mode. It snaps dozens of images in rapid succession, so you don’t miss that perfect shot by a few milliseconds. Here’s how to activate Burst Mode on an iPhone, and here’s how to activate Top Shot on the Google Camera app. That said, there is a caveat: Because the shutter speed is faster in this mode, the results will be darker.

Or check out Live Photos/Motion Mode. This feature is sort of similar to Burst Mode/Top Shot, in that it’s capturing multiple images. But with Live Photos, it’s shooting a second and a half of video before and after the shot. Then you can go into your photos app and pick the best one(s) out of the batch.

Here’s how to set up Live Photo mode on an iPhone, and here’s how to set up Motion Mode on the Google Camera app.

Impress your Insta pals with a Time Lapse video (for tripods only). Here’s another idea if you’re looking to post something cool on Instagram: Frame your shot accordingly on the tripod, tap the red button when the festivities start, and let it run during the fireworks. Then tap the red button again when it’s all over. The result, ideally, will be a few seconds of very cool sped-up video.

Here’s how to set up Time Lapse Mode on an iPhone, and here’s how to set up time lapse mode on the Google Camera app.


Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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