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I Beg of You, Do Not Take Photos of Fireworks With Your Smartphone

They are bad, so very bad

Your fireworks photos are bad.

As we approach this year’s annual Fireworks Day, aka July Fourth or Independence Day, no doubt my Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat will be flooded with your horrible, awful, horrendous photos of fireworks.

It’s not your fault! Your smartphone, be it iPhone or Android, was not equipped to take photos of fireworks — so quick, so bright, so impossible to capture that they never appear as gorgeous as IRL through the lens of your cellphone. Even professional photographers would rather you not take photos of fireworks with your cellphones (and it’s not just because they don’t want you to do their job). So says California-based professional photographer Stephen Paul Stocker: “There are three main components to photography: Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO — none of which you have control over on your cellphone. All three of these needed to capture something as complicated as a firework.”

(For photography idiots, like me: Shutter speed is how long a camera’s shutter is open when you take a photo, measured in fractions; aperture is the opening of a lens’s diaphragm through which light passes, measured in f/stops; and ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light — the higher the ISO-number, the more sensitive the film is to light. If you want to learn more about this stuff, take a class. Or watch a YouTube video.)

Skill (and a bit of luck, Stocker adds) is certainly a factor, but without the manual controls of a Real Camera, here is how your many, many fireworks photos will appear:

Just awful.

The other reason to refrain from the stereotypical fireworks photo this Fourth of July is simply that everyone’s doing it. And I don’t just mean taking pictures of fireworks, but seeing fireworks. It’s pretty hard to avoid them — so high up in the sky and so very loud. We all know what they look (and sound) like.

There are plenty of other Independence Day-themed things to take photos of if you’re just out to show off your good time. Here are a few suggestions:

But let’s say you want to take good photos of fireworks, perhaps even upload them to your smartphone and share them on Instagram (which is technically cheating, but I’ll allow it). Stocker suggests “using a DSLR or mirrorless and taking it off of automatic using your options with shutter, aperture, and ISO.” It’s not about having the best equipment, he adds, but “you do need the appropriate equipment that allows for creative control.”

Tajreen Hedayet, also a professional photographer from California, has a few other tips for capturing fireworks if you don’t have access to a Real Camera:

“Some phones and cameras have great video or gif options that let you catch a few moments instead of a still shot — that’s always a great choice for fireworks, so you can really see them sparkle. Once you get a sense of where the fireworks will be, listen for the whistling as the fireworks shoot into the sky, so you know when to hit the shutter.”

And there’s one tip we should all remember — forever and ever, fireworks or not: Turn off the flash.

No one needs that.

Happy Independence Day!