5 tips for capturing your Fourth of July like a pro
Celebrating the nation's Independence Day calls for excessive amounts of food, fireworks, and lots of stars and flags. After reading this guide full of helpful tips, you'll successfully be able to blow your friends away — with awesome pictures, that is.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
1. If you are like most Americans, your day of festivities likely will involve a bit of boozing. So for your sake, those around you, and the quality of photos, dial back the beer pong, bro. Step numero uno is don't drink too much — blowing off even one of your fingers with fireworks will make it difficult to operate a camera.
2. If you don't intend to lug around a heavy dSLR the entire day for fear of breaking it or sheer inconvenience, no problem! A camera phone or the standard point-and-shoot have come a long way. If you haven't messed with the settings on your iPhone 5, we suggest you do so.
Turning on the HDR — or high dynamic range — setting can drastically alter your photo quality. You'll notice bluer skies and potentially more detail in many low-lit situations. For those a little bit more adventurous, kick it old school and purchase a Kodak disposable, Holga, or a Polaroid, that's right, just follow the hipster's lead.
3. Stability is crucial. If you aim to get some cool shots by the fire at night or some of those neat and bright fireworks, you'll need to keep the camera-shakes under control (hopefully you didn't skip step one). Regardless of SLR or point-and-shoot, a tripod can be very useful for this. If you don't have a tripod, try wedging the camera or phone against a sturdy object. I like using a rock or wall.
Also, make sure motordrive is on (also referred to as continuous mode, or CH, on SLRs). A shutter release cord would be extremely handy-dandy in this situation, as it allows you to keep your hands off the camera and eliminate camera-shake entirely. Some camera phones have a setting to capture multiple frames at a time. Give it a whirl.
4. Now it comes to the main event: capturing that fire in the sky. While there is an art to this technique, the basics are graspable. First, grab your tripod, and second, choose your position. Whether you are in Manchester or Northern Michigan, finding an area with no obstructions or bright lights is essential. It would be wise to set up from a high vantage point — this could be anything from an apartment patio or the roof of a parking garage. In this situation, using a wide-angle lens also would help the quality.
Next, find your exposure using a slow shutter-speed. This will help to create long streaks of lights. Anywhere from one to three seconds is a good place to begin. Shoot wide open (lowest number=f/2.8 or f/4.5) with your aperture while limiting your ISO. You can focus on a building, skyline, or horizon in the distance. Once you find the exposure and focus, stay diligent. If you've got real skill, the best picture will be the first one. The constant blasts of fireworks leave behind a decent smoke trail, which can then be illuminated in the sky and whoops, there goes your clean picture. Once you hear that first "pop," hold down the shutter.
5. Finally, it's time for painting with light. Be warned: don't try this next trick at home — at least not indoors. This is a real fun skill that will make you the coolest guy on the block. You'll need a handful of sparklers, the tripod from Step 3, and a childlike imagination (adult supervision required). Set up in a dark area with plenty of space. Also being mindful of nearby flammable objects. The driveway is an ideal location.
After setting up the tripod. slow things down to A 10-, 15-, or 30-second shutter speed. Crazy, right? Light up the sparklers, click the shutter, and start drawing. You and the kids can make doodles, write your name, or even draw Trogdor, but I must reiterate — BE SAFE — you may be literally playing with fire! If you're finding the shutter speed is too long or short, try "bulb," where holding down the shutter will determine the duration of the picture.
Now that you've had a crash-course in firework photography, go out there and flex your skills! And be sure to send any cool shots you get to firstname.lastname@example.org.