New Year’s fireworks tips for taking photos with your phone

When the clock hits midnight on January 1, all eyes will be on the sky, as everyone watches the fireworks light up the deep blue and black that is the night sky. You don’t have to get lost in the moment, though, and neither does your phone’s camera with these handy tips.

We won’t bore you with how to take the photos, because most people will just aim their phones in the sky or at their friends and family and just take the photos, touching the screen to focus and firing the photo off, which makes sense.

These days, most phones don’t even come with a “fireworks” mode — we checked phones from HTC, LG, Motorola, Apple, and Samsung to find out — and that’s likely because the automatic camera is good enough to jump between scenes that it doesn’t need a specific fireworks mode to start on.

Generally, all you need to do is aim the phone camera where you want it and take the photo. Fireworks shows tend to go for a while so you have time, and if you want to compose before the show starts, try composing with a landmark or object in the foreground, not only giving you something to focus on, but also making an image of fireworks with more substance, as if to say “fireworks where I live” rather than “generic fireworks in the sky”.

But there’s more to smartphone fireworks photography, and much of it comes from what we want to do with the photos afterwards, as well as that whole selfie movement.

Chimp later

In digital photography, there’s a term few people know of anymore. It’s called “chimping”.

The term isn’t some complicated jargon, and originates with the thing we all did when images first started appearing on the screen. As we stared down into that infinite black abyss that was the LCD screen on the back of the camera, the pictures materialised almost instantly, like a digital Polaroid, and people started to point, and say “oooh”, almost the way a chimpanzee might.

Hence “chimp”.

These days, we’re all used to this technology, and it’s no longer magical, but that doesn’t mean we chimp any less. The moment we take a picture, we chimp it, looking over it and deciding what to do with it that moment, either sending it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other number of social services we all tend to rely on.

But during New Year’s, chimping is the last thing you should be doing with your photos, as you might miss the moment you’ve been looking for.

Resist the urge to look at the photos that very moment, and if you can, switch off the review image in the camera settings, as that will help stop you missing a moment of the fun on the evening.

Social jam

Another reason you should avoid chimping on New Year’s comes from that social side our photos tend to take.

We’ve already mentioned that you’ll probably want to send photos to the social sphere to share with all your mates, but if you’re somewhere where you can take nice photos — like on the harbour or in the middle of the city — there’s a good chance the telephone network you’re on will be completely jammed, and so the moment you try to get on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or send a MMS, the telco will just knock you back.

It’s not you, by the way; rather, it’s everyone else on the network, and that means while you’re trying to send, constantly clicking “retry” again and again, you could potentially be missing the opportunities to take great photos.

Instead, take your photos with your phone camera (or your real camera that can be sent back to a phone later on), and share them later. The world won’t end for not seeing your image the moment it happens, and chances are that you won’t get it out there anyway.

Selfie control

It seems this year was all about the selfie, with the selfie sticks arriving this year and giving people who love a decent photo of themselves a chance to make these images have more composition.

But there’s a problem with the selfie stick: it can really get in the way.

I mean just look at it: it’s a long hand-held monopod that generally waves your phone in the sky, all in the name of getting a good photo of yourself. We can see why these will be annoying during New Year’s, and hopefully you can, too.

As such, don’t expect that raising your selfie stick high in the sky will let you get a better shot of fireworks that are also in the sky. It won’t. At all. The bursts of gunpowder and lovely bright colours are so high in the sky that it’s basically all relative, so don’t aim you phone high in the sky expecting to be a fantastic photographer that night.

If you’re planning on taking a selfie with fireworks in the distance and you’re using a selfie stick, keep the phone extended from you at an angle that is either at waist level or lower. Doing this means you’ve moved the camera to show yourself and anyone else in the photo, with the fireworks in the distance.

Again, take lots of photos and chimp later. Chances are that you’ll take some great ones throughout it, and if you’re using the front-facing camera and looking at yourself through the phone’s screen to take the photo, you’ll know what the composition looks like as you’re taking the photo, lessening the need to check how the image looks immediately after all.

Most of all, though, try to keep the selfie sticks out of everyone’s way. Seriously, we can’t think of much more that would annoy us if we had settled to watch fireworks than someone raising their phone in the air with a long stick stopping us from doing that very thing.