How to take photos of fireworks on a smartphone

When the New Year arrives, fireworks will be going off in cities all around the world. Whether you plan on celebrating with the crowds here in Oz or overseas, some simple shooting tips and handy apps will help you capture the spectacular with your smartphone.

Great fireworks photographs rely on slow shutter speeds, where controls within the camera work to keep the shutter mechanism open long enough for the light trails against the dark sky to be captured to the sensor.

The camera function within a smartphone tends to lack this level of control, but armed with basic photo knowledge and some useful apps, you can overcome some of the limitations of your hardware.

Hold still

One of the most important criteria for achieving a long exposure is stability. Any movement of the camera will cause the image to blur, so the key here is to hold still. With a device as small as a smartphone, though, that’s difficult.

A tripod makes a world of difference here, and there are models available for smartphones. They’re often tiny  (read: portable), flexible and not very expensive.  And they work a treat when anchored firmly to a surface.

Joby – makers of the GorillaPod – have been making flexible tripods for ages, and you can easily equip most smartphones (including the iPhone) with one of these.

Alternatively, grab a phone stand and sit your phone inside it.

Joby's GorillaPod allows you to attach a flexible tripod to something sturdy like a pole.

Hug a tree

We’re not telling you to change your political beliefs with this one; instead, holding onto a tree is a good way of providing much needed stability when taking photos in low light.

Find a strong vertical object, a telegraph pole or fence also works, and either lean against it or hug it. The stability of the standing object will increase your stability, with the effect of turning your entire body into a tripod.

Hold your breath

If you don’t have a phone tripod or you can’t find something to lean against, try holding your breath.

The rationale here is that, the less your body moves, the less movement there will be to transfer to your smartphone and, in turn, the images it’s capturing.

Holding your breath for a short time can help to stabilise your body and reduce camera movement.

So hold your phone in either one or two hands, and bring your arms in close to your chest, as if you were being held against your will. Now hold your breath for ten or twenty seconds, breathing in (obviously) when the photo is done or you become uncomfortable. Or when you actually need to breath.

The excess movement should be limited, and your shot should exhibit less unwanted motion. We’ve used this technique when shooting with a professional camera, and it works effectively.