In our humble opinion, July Fourth is one of the best holidays in America. Everywhere you go you’ll find parties, sparklers, fireworks, and the sweet smells of barbeque. What’s not to love?
Well, for one, you might not love the way those awesome fireworks look on your phone when filming with everything set to auto. Avoid disappointing results this Fourth with these 10 secrets to capturing stellar footage of fireworks displays using your phone.
1. Stake out a Good Spot
The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, a clear view of the fireworks, which is critical for getting nice shots. Stake out a spot where you will be able to see not only the fireworks, but some interesting buildings, landmarks, or landscapes to help frame your shots beautifully. It’s not just about the fireworks, but also the light they create and how it bounces off of water, shiny skyscrapers, or clouds.
2. Come Prepared
Make sure you cover the basics. You will need your phone fully charged with plenty of room to store HD videos of the fireworks display. You’ll probably also want a way to stabilize your phone when shooting, whether that means a little tripod, a pair of sunglasses, or just a carefully chosen spot where you can safely prop it up somehow.
3. Use a Specialized App
There’s a good chance you’ll want to use a different app for shooting the video than the native camera app provided with your phone in order to get more finely tuned control over your settings for recording fireworks. Testing some out and installing them prior to the fireworks is a must if you don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute.
Here are some options that give you granular manual control over your phone’s camera to help get you started:
4. Avoid Overexposure
Filming on a phone in a low light setting when trying to capture sudden bursts of light and color is challenging to say the least. On auto, your phone will keep trying to adjust to the darkness in between fireworks, and the bright flashes of light periodically appearing in the sky, meaning the iris will be constantly changing. Most phones don’t react quickly enough to such drastic changes in lighting conditions to deliver a quality result.
Locking the exposure on your phone is the way to go. On iOS, aim the camera at the fireworks, or a similar bright source of light, against the dark sky, and tap and hold your finger on that area until the AE/AF lock symbol appears on the screen. This will prevent your phone from struggling to adapt to the changing lighting conditions during the display. You might want to try locking it a few times until you get the result you want.
On Android, the right way to lock exposure depends on the specific phone you have, but for most models, you can lock exposure (and focus) by pressing and holding the shutter button until it beeps, or otherwise indicates that it’s been set. You might even have additional options for finely tuning the exposure setting depending on your specific device.
5. Don’t Zoom
Zooming in on the fireworks will create lots of visual noise in your frame since the zoom is digital, not optical. Try to get to the event early instead so you can get a better vantage point and avoid zooming entirely.
6. Test in Advance
Ideally, bring sparklers on the 4th of July to allow you to test your video settings before the big fireworks show kicks off. You should really have sparklers anyway, because they’re awesome, but for making sure you’re ready to film fireworks, they can serve a really practical purpose too. Once the sun goes down, sparklers create similar lighting conditions as fireworks, allowing you to make sure your exposure settings are optimized before the big show.
7. Timelapse or Slow Motion
Consider creating a timelapse video or filming in slow motion to add variety to your video and help it stand out from the thousands of other fireworks clips that are bound to emerge after the Fourth.
8. Pretty Panning
If you want to pan across the display, hold your phone as steadily as possible, and move it by turning your upper body slowly from the waist. The result will be much more smooth than just using your hands, since turning from the waist helps stabilize the panning shot.
9. It’s Not Just Fireworks
Consider mixing in clips of spectators, flags waving in the breeze, the band playing at the pavilion, people playing with sparklers, and other related happenings that capture the spirit of the Fourth. Try to get all of those shots before the fireworks begin so you can properly adjust the settings on your phone before the show begins, and aren’t trying to switch settings back and forth.
10. Sound Solutions
If you have a fancy rig for your phone with an external microphone, you might have better luck than most capturing the exciting snaps, crackles and pops of fireworks exploding in the sky. The built-in microphone is unlikely to be up to the challenge in this instance, so consider editing out the sound entirely, and replacing it with patriotic or upbeat music.
If you really want the sounds of fireworks going off, but can’t capture it clearly with your setup, try using sound effects instead. You can find real recordings of fireworks for free here and here. Then the only challenge is to time them realistically to the display.
Do you have any other tips for filming fireworks? Please share in the comments below.