July 3, 2012 at 11:22 AM ET
Heading out with the family for July 4th fireworks celebrations is a time-honored tradition. And, if you're like me, you enjoy capturing those memories in pictures. But photographing fireworks with no camera shake and proper exposure is difficult, unless you know these simple tricks:
1. Use a tripod
When you take picture of fireworks, the camera needs to hold the shutter open long enough to “see” the fireworks. The longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible your photo is to motion blur. So use a tripod to make sure there’s no movement. For open areas, use a stand-alone model with telescoping legs like the Dolica AX620B100 Proline($38.40). A more mobile option is the Joby GorillaPod($12.30), which can wrap around trees and poles or stand up on the ground.
2. Use the “fireworks” scene mode
Most point-and-shoot cameras have a button or dial with “SCN” or “Scene” on it. Otherwise you’ll find it under the “menu” button. When you put your camera in scene mode, a list of the available modes will pop up on screen. Select the one that looks like a spray of fireworks and/or says "fireworks."
Most cameras sold today have a "fireworks" mode. Some models I recommend include the GE Smart J1470S (an affordable 14MP camera with a 7x lens, $105.29), Nikon Coolpix AW100 (an extremely rugged 16MP camera, $289.95) and the Canon PowerShot S100 (a 12MP camera with a superfast f/2 lens for great low light photography, $363.95).
You can find all of my recommended cameras in our Digital Camera Buying Guide.
3. If your camera doesn’t have a “fireworks” scene mode, put it in “landscape” mode
Your camera automatically tries to find an object on which to focus. And when presented with a black featureless sky, the camera doesn’t know what to do. By putting your camera in “landscape” mode, you’ll be presetting the focus to infinity and narrowing the lens opening, which keeps both near and far objects in focus.
4. Turn off the flash
Turning your flash off will let the camera know that it only has available light to take a picture. This is important because the camera will then keep the shutter open long enough to capture the fireworks. The flash button is usually a separate button on the back of the camera. On some cameras, you can’t turn off the flash unless you put it in a scene mode or program mode (P).
5. Turn down the ISO
High ISO will crank up the sensitivity of the camera so it can see details in the dark. However, the fireworks themselves are quite bright. So, to avoid overexposure and reduce film noise, take your camera out of Auto ISO and change the setting to ISO 100 or even lower. The ISO setting is usually found under the main menu. You may have to put your camera in program mode to change this setting.
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