Eight tips for better fireworks photos with your phone

Eight tips for better fireworks photos with your phone

Heading out to the fireworks and hoping to capture some great photos of the action? Here are our top tips to help you photography fireworks. 

Turn off your flash 

Even though you will be taking photographs in the dark, the fireworks will provide all the light you need. Having the flash on won’t help your photos, and it will cause a slight delay in the camera taking a photo. This could be just long enough to make the difference between you capturing a great photo and a very average one. Make sure you have the flash switched to ‘off’ rather than ‘auto’, to make sure your camera doesn’t try to guess whether it is needed. 

Keep your phone still

To get really clear fireworks photos, you will need to make sure your phone is as still as possible. You could try using a small tripod, resting your phone on a fence, or even just keeping your arms close to your body. If you find somewhere steady for your phone you can even use a remote trigger to take photos, meaning you don’t need to touch your phone and risk it moving at all. The headphones that came packaged with your phone have a built in remote release, and apple watches can be used the same way. 

Avoid Using Digital Zoom

So you want to get close to the firework action and think your zoom is the way to do this? Think again. if your camera has a digital zoom (google the make of your phone to find out), the zoom is only pre-cropping and enlarging pixels from the photo. For best results you need to zoom out before you take the photo, and then crop it on your phone afterwards. This will give you more control of the final image and should make for a better picture. Some phones (including the newer iPhones) also have an optical zoom. The optical zoom uses the lens optics of an iPhone camera to bring your subject closer. Image quality using optical zoom is far superior to digital zoom. 

Turn Down the Exposure

You may find that the photo your phone takes of the night sky is too bright. It’s easy to change the exposure on your phone. On your iPhone just swipe up and down on the viewfinder. To make the photo darker you will want to swipe down. Reducing the exposure will give you better blacks in the night sky and reduce the amount of noise in the image.

Try Out Live Photos

A nifty feature on your phone that you might want to try out when photographing fireworks is Live Photos. This feature records a tiny video of your image. After you have taken the image your phone will automatically select what it thinks is the best moment from the tiny video as the key photo. You can go back and choose a different photo if you prefer. To enable Live Photos, just make sure the circular Live Photos icon in the Camera is yellow, i.e., turned on. 

Turn Them into Long Exposures

This is a bonus feature of Live Photos feature. After you take a photo, go into your ‘Live Photos’ folder in the Photos app, and select an image. Then swipe up on the photo to access the different effects you can apply, including long exposure. This effect will create “bright streaks across the night sky,” as Apple puts it, simulating a long exposure that you would normally expect only to be able to take with a camera. 

Use Burst Mode

Another way of making sure you capture the perfect moment is to use your camera’s burst mode. To do this on an iPhone hold down the shutter button and it will continue taking photos in rapid succession until you let go. In the photo library burst photos are all displayed under a single thumbnail. You may end up with lots of photos, but you can always select the awesome ones you want to keep and let your phone delete the rest. 

Take a Video

If you’re not getting the results you want with taking photos of fireworks, all is not lost. Try switching to your video. You can just take a regular video, and then screenshot the video and crop and edit the image as you wish. Alternatively, you can try out a couple of the other modes your camera may offer. You could use the slo-mo mode to slow down a firework, or the time-lapse mode to record the whole display in a few second video. 

Fireworks displays in Berkhamsted

Want to know where to practice? Here are some of the local fireworks displays:

Saturday 3rd November

Berkhamsted Rotary @ Berkhamsted Cricket Club See details

Tring Festival of Fire @ Tring Park Cricket Club See details

Chipperfield Common See details

Sunday 4th November 

Pixies Hill School See details

How to Photograph Berkhamsted Fireworks With Your Camera

Berkhamsted Fireworks Photography: A How To Guide

Are you planning to photograph the Berkhamsted fireworks this bonfire night? Want to know how to set your camera up to get great photos of the fireworks? Then read on …

Before You Go Out

Photographing fireworks is a great way of practicing using the various buttons and settings on your camera. Some advance planning is necessary to make sure you have all the kit you need ready.

Things You Will Need

A tripod is pretty much essential when photographing fireworks with your camera. Alternatively you will need to find a very steady place for your camera. Because photographing fireworks involves a long exposure it’s really important that your camera doesn’t move. 

Another bit of kit you might find useful is a remote release. This avoids the risk of you moving the camera (even slightly) as you take the photo. Remote releases cost just over £5, such as this one which fits most Canon cameras. This is the equivalent for Nikon cameras. 

There is an alternative to a remote release cable. Most cameras give you the option to select a delay before the shutter operates. This means the image is taken a few seconds after you press the shutter.

Lens Choice

If you have a choice of lens, you probably want to use a wide angle zoom. Until the display gets started you don’t always know where the fireworks are going to be. If you start with a wide angle zoom set at its widest focal length, you can then crop your images either in camera during the display, or when your process your photos. Some common compositions with fireworks are to shoot wide, so you capture the crowd and the wider scene, or to crop tight around the fireworks once you know where they are going to be. 

Setting Your Camera Up

When setting your camera up for fireworks, you might want to dial in the settings before you head out in the dark. You will need to be in manual mode. More advanced photographers might want to use bulb mode, you will definitely need a remote release for this).

As a starting point set your ISO to 200, aperture to f11 and shutter speed to 2 seconds. You are looking for photos where the sky is nice and dark, and fireworks which aren’t overexposed.

Find out if your camera has an option to light up the buttons when you’re outside in the dark. If not you may want to take a head torch, or the torch on your phone can be very useful too. 

Taking Firework Photographs

When you get to the firework display, you will want to think about where to stand. The distance you want to be from the fireworks will vary depending on the display, your lens and how much you want to include in the image. You want to stand somewhere so that you don’t get obstructions, such as power cables, buildings or other light sources in the way of your photo. 

One challenge with taking photos of fireworks is how to focus your camera. The simplest way to overcome this is to move your mens to manual focus. You can then focus your lens to infinity (this should be marked on your lens. You are most likely going to be far enough away from the camera that you can set the focus to infinity and just leave it there. 

It is easy to underexpose or overexpose your firework photos. If your fireworks look too bright try altering your settings to achieve a darker sky and crisper fireworks. It’s probably worth adjusting your shutter speed to start with until you get the look you want. You probably want to take a could of photos and then check them, then you can quickly make any adjustments before the display finishes. 

More Advanced Photographs

For more advanced photographers, you can capture a series of fireworks in a single image. For this you want to keep your shutter open for a long time, you may want to use bulb mode for this. You then place a piece of black card over the lens between fireworks, to prevent light entering the camera and overexposing the image. You can also use a gloved hand for this, but be very careful not to knock the camera. Your shutter may be open for 20 or 30 seconds, but the camera is only capturing the fireworks when you remove the cover from the lens. 

Post Processing Firework Photographs

Some small tweaks to your photos after you have taken them can help to make them really stand out. You can experiment with the composition, perhaps seeing whether cutting out any unused space draws attention to the fireworks, or perhaps leaving it there providers a sense of place. You may want to experiment with making the sky darker (by increasing the contrast), or making the fireworks more vivid (by increasing the saturation).

Berkhamsted Fireworks

Want to know where to practice? Here are some of the local fireworks displays (all Saturday 3rd November):

Berkhamsted Rotary @ Berkhamsted Cricket Club

Tring Festival of Fire @ Tring Park Cricket Club 

Chipperfield Common 

Photography Lessons Berkhamsted

Want to learn more about how to use your camera? Then visit our website to learn more about our photography courses for beginners in Berkhamsted.

The Little Duckling Guide To Choosing a Camera. Part Two: The Other Stuff

Part One in this series of blogs on how to choose your new camera looked at whether a DSLR, a point and shoot or a mirrorless camera is for you. Now you’ve got that bit sorted, this second part goes on to consider some of the features you might want to think about when deciding which model to go for. 

As before, It’s worth remembering there is no single factor which means one camera is better than another. Everyone has different priorities, and the best camera for one person may not be right for another. It’s difficult to buy a genuinely bad camera today, but it still pays to do some research to make sure you are still satisfied with your choice in a couple of years’ time. And there is no substitute for going into a shop and having a play with different cameras, and finding out which one feels right to you. 

Factors to Consider

Manual controls

This for me is the one feature that is a must for anyone who wants to learn how to use their camera properly. Even if you don’t plan to use manual mode for the majority of your shooting, having it available to you is really beneficial in learning how to take control of your images. Almost all DSLRs and all mirrorless cameras have manual mode, but the same cannot be said for point and shoot cameras, and this is definitely something to check out before making your purchase. 

RAW mode

Shooting in RAW may mean nothing to you at this time, and that’s absolutely fine. RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. They give you more flexibility if you want to process your images on the computer, and shooting RAW means you can make changes to your images in post-processing without affecting the image quality. If you want to use Lightroom or Photoshop with your images, or think you might want to in the future, then look for a camera that allows you to shoot in RAW. 

Autofocus

Autofocus (AF) points are what a camera uses to focus on a subject. In general higher end cameras have better autofocus systems than entry level cameras, and newer cameras improve upon older models. Autofocus works differently in different types of camera, with mirrorless cameras and DSLRs in live view mode using contrast detection, and DSLRs using phase detection. More AF points can be an advantage if you choose to focus your toggle point when taking a photo, this is much less important if you use the focus and recompose technique. 

The more AF points allow more flexibility about where you set your focus in an image and means there is less risk of you losing focus lock while tracking a moving object. But it’s not all about the number of AF points. In DSLRs it’s also about the quality of the AF point. Cross type focussing sensors are superior, allowing faster and more accurate focussing. In higher end cameras all the AF points will be cross type, however in entry level cameras it may just be the centre point that is cross type. 

Viewfinder

Unlike when taking photos with your phone, you may be used to holding your camera up-to your eye when taking a photo. Viewfinders are useful shooting on sunny days when you can’t always see the LCD. Whether or not you are want a viewfinder is a personal preference, but check it out before you choose your camera.  

Screen

There are a couple of things to think about here. Some camera screens are touchscreen, some people love it, some hate it and find they are accidentally changing their settings with their nose. Have a think about whether this is important to you. 

Some cameras have screens that you can move away from the camera. If you’re going to be taking a lot of photos from different angles, such as floor level or shooting direct downwards. A moveable screen lets you frame your image even when you can’t get your eye to the camera. 

Brand

The camera brand you choose is important, but probably not in the way you think. You should choose a camera based on its features, not its brand. Brand is important in that it affect the range of lenses and accessories that will work with the camera. Nikon and Canon are both well established brands, with plenty of lenses to choose from. The smaller brands are catching up rapidly, but if for example you want to do a lot of wildlife photography, check that there is a decent telephoto lens compatible with the camera. 

Resolution

Camera resolution, or the number of megapixels, is one factor which affects the size you can print your images and how much you can crop an image without losing too much quality. A few years ago this number was important when choosing a camera, but with even phone cameras now having a huge number of megapixels, it becoming less and less important. Unless you are a professional, or understand the components that affect image quality it is unlikely that resolution should be a key consideration when you are choosing a camera. 

Making the Decision

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Once you’ve done some research about the features you might want and some cameras that might be of interest, the best way to decide on your new camera is to go into a store and try them out. Check how the camera feels in your hand, and how easy it is (or isn’t) to access different settings. 

Conclusion

There are many variables to consider when it comes to choosing a new camera. The most important thing is to pick a camera that you enjoy using, that feels comfortable in your hands and you like how it works. If a camera doesn’t fit with you, more likely than not you will choose not to use it. 

Don’t get caught in the trap of feeling you have to have the ‘best’ or newest camera, and don’t feel you have to spend an exorbitant amount to get started taking great photos. Buying a camera is tricky largely because there are so many great cameras available. This is a good problem to have. 

Learning the factors you need to consider when choosing a camera is a great first step to learning how to use the camera, and how to take great photographs. And the best way to learn this? One of our photography courses in Berkhamsted of course 🙂 Click here to find out more. 

The Little Duckling Guide To Choosing a Camera. Part One: Types of Camera

Introduction

So you’ve decided it’s time to buy a camera. But which one should you get? This is a really common question among people who want to attend a beginners photography course. 

There are hundreds if not thousands of different cameras available, and the many factors to consider can make choosing a new camera a confusing process. Choose well and you’ll have the start of a camera system that will last you the rest of your life. Choose badly and your camera will gather dust while you continue taking photos on your phone. 

It’s worth remembering there is no single factor which makes one camera better than another. Everyone has different priorities, and the best camera for one person may not be right for another. It’s difficult to buy a genuinely bad camera today, but it still pays to do some research to make sure you are still satisfied with your choice in a couple of years’ time. 

In this series of articles, we examine some of the decisions you’ll need to make when choosing a new camera. In this first part, we look at the different types of cameras available, comparing DSLR, mirrorless and compact cameras. Having decided on what type of camera you want, part two looks at the factors you need to consider when picking your new camera. Covering everything from sensor size to file formats, part two guides you through everything you need to think about when selecting your camera. In part three we share information on a range of cameras which are particularly suited to the beginner photographer who wants to learn how to take better photos. 

Types of Cameras

Generally speaking, cameras fall into five categories:

  1. DSLR
  2. Mirrorless
  3. Point and shoot 
  4. Smartphone 
  5. Specialty cameras (like GoPro, drones, or dedicated video cameras)

You probably already have a smartphone, and I’m assuming by the fact you’re reading this that you probably want a step up, so we’re not going to look at those here. We’re also not going to cover speciality cameras. That leaves us with DSLR, mirrorless and compact cameras

So, what’s the difference? 

Most people start their photography journey with a point and shoot camera. Quality-wise these range from cheap with uninspiring quality to pretty awesome. DSLRs are the big, fancy-looking cameras, with multiple buttons and big lenses, traditionally used by professional photographers. There is an overwhelming choice of lenses and flashes available, as well as a multiple other gadgets which are used to achieve all sorts of creative effects.

With mirrorless technology becoming increasingly popular, the view that a DSLR is required for ‘proper’ photography is changing. Mirrorless cameras are smaller in size than DSLRs, but are quickly gaining respect for their great compromise of quality and versatility.

Interchangeable or fixed lens?

One of the main decisions to make when choosing a type of camera is whether or not you want to be able to change the lens. In general, point and shoot cameras come with a fixed lens (i.e. it can’t be taken off the camera and changed for a different lens), whilst DSLR and mirrorless camera generally have interchangeable lenses. 

Advantages of fixed lens cameras:
  • The cameras tend to be much smaller
  • A fixed lens often has a zoom range that would be too expensive or heaving in an interchangeable lens
  • Swapping lens can be a pain, as can carrying around the different lens you might want to use
  • Often, a fixed lens is allows a wider aperture than the kit lens included with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras
Advantages of cameras with interchangeable lens:
  • You can buy better lens to improve photo quality and performance, either now or in the future
  • If you need a wider or narrower angle of view, you can get another lens 
  • You can get a faster (i.e. wider maximum aperture) lens if you need better low-light performance.

If size and convenience are the most important factors, then a point and shoot may be the camera for you. Don’t be fooled by the name, many point and shoot cameras have manual modes that allow you to take control of your images. If however you want the quality and flexibility that comes with an interchangeable lens then read on to find out more about the differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras. 

Mirrorless or DSLR?

If you decide to go for a camera with an interchangeable lens you will need to choose between a DSLR camera and a mirrorless camera. For a long time it was thought that for true photographers nothing could beat a DSLR camera to get the perfect photo. DSLRs have been the mainstay of professional photography for many years. 

But that is changing. Mirrorless cameras are rapidly becoming more popular, and some of the worlds top photographers are ditching their DSLRs in favour of mirrorless cameras. Filling the gap between a small point and shoot that will fit in your pocket and DSLRs with their heavy lens, it’s easy to see why more and more people are choosing mirrorless.  

A DSLR camera uses a mirror to direct the light to your eye through the viewfinder. To take a picture this mirror flips up to expose the sensor. With a mirrorless camera, the need for the mirror is removed, and you compose your photo on a large screen or using an electronic viewfinder, meaning no mirrors are required and cameras can be smaller and lighter. 

Advantages of a DSLR over a mirrorless camera: 
  • If you want the biggest possible choice of lenses, then a Canon or Nikon DSLR is possibly your best choice thanks to their huge range of optics – they both have an extensive range of lenses, as well as excellent third party support from the likes of Sigma and Tamron
  • The battery life of DSLR cameras is better than the battery life of mirrorless cameras
  • All DSLRs come with an optical viewfinder, meaning its easy to compose images even in bright sunlight
  • You get more for your money with a cheap DSLR, compared to a cheap mirrorless camera
Advantages of a mirrorless camera over a DSLR:
  • Most mirrorless cameras and lenses are smaller than DSLRs
  • The lack of a mirror means that as you adjust exposure settings on your camera, you will see what the image will actually look like before you take it. In DLSRs you only see your actual image after you have the photo. This is a feature is of great benefit while you are learning about and experimenting with different exposure settings. 

In terms of features and controls, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are increasingly hard to split. The choice for many comes down to personal preference of size versus price. DSLRs are sturdy, good value cameras offering top quality images. Mirrorless cameras are smaller, full of just as many features and becoming increasingly popular. For beginners and those on a budget, entry level DSLR gives you more than a cheap mirrorless camera. Further up the price range, there is less difference and there are fewer and fewer technical reasons why a DSLR should be considered the best option for photographers. 

The best way to decide is often to compare them side by side. Visit a shop, pick a few cameras up, try them out and feel which is more comfortable in your hands. You may prefer the chunky feel and optical view finder of a DSLR, or you may prefer the smaller size of a mirrorless camera. 

Beginners Photography Courses

If you want to learn how to use your new camera, why not check out our photography courses for beginners? Details and next available dates are available here.

Part Two

Decided what type of camera you want? Ready to learn about the other features you need to think about when choosing your next camera? Part Two is coming soon. Get in touch if you have a question in the mean time.

Taking Photos In Harsh Sunlight

Summer comes with some of the most amazing light, and also some of the hardest light to take photos in. Photographers often try to avoid taking photos in harsh sunlight, due to the strong shadows, blown highlights and lens flare that can occur when taking photos in bright, glaring sunlight.

But sunny days in UK aren’t that common, and when they do occur lots of us like spending time outside enjoying the warmth. Maybe you’re planning a day out at the beach, in a local park or just enjoying some time in the garden, these tips will help you take better photos for your family on those sunny days.

  1. Shoot at an Angle

Take a few moments before you start taking photos to have a look at how the light is hitting your subjects. If you can, position your subjects so the sun isn’t directly hitting their faces. You don’t want your subjects squinting when they look at you. Move around your subject to work out which angle to posit yourself at, being careful to make sure that your own subject doesn’t fall on the subject.

  1. Change your shooting mode

As clever as many modern cameras are these days, they will be a lot of light bouncing around your subject and your light meter won’t give you an accurate reading. By default, your camera is likely to want to underexpose your images when taking photos on bright sunny days.

One way you can properly expose an image in a harsh sunlight situation is by putting your camera in manual mode. Rather than letting the camera decide, in manual mode you tell it what exposure settings to use.

  1. Widen Your Aperture

One reason harsh sunlight isn’t always desirable for taking photos is because it generally isn’t very flattering. Harsh sunlight creates hard shadows, and these highlight little details on the skin, such as blemishes and wrinkles.

Shooting at a wider aperture helps to soften skin tones, and create a more pleasing look for portraits. Depending on what your lens allows, you might want to go as wide as f1.2. It’s important to note that when shooting with a wide apertures that it can be difficult to maintain a sharp focus on your subjects. Remember to slow down and take your time to focus properly when taking images using these settings.

  1. Use the shadows

Harsh sunlight creates strong shadows. These shadows can be used to create images with contrasting elements of light and dark. The contrast created by the shadows can add to the mood of an image, or be used to direct attention to highlights in an image. Shadows can add drama, definition or mystery to an image.

  1. Go Inside

And if you’re not feeling the the harsh sun outdoors? Try heading inside and take some photos there. Harsh sunlight outside can mean there is a lot of sun coming though your windows, so make the most of it.

5 Tips for Organising Your Family Photos

If I asked you where your photos of your children are, what would your answer be?

I guess that you would probably say they’re mostly on your phone, and that you have a few on a memory card in your camera as well. You’d also remember you have some saved on a computer or two, as well as ones taken by friends and family sent to you via Facebook, email and Instagram. Then you’d recall the ones still on your old phone, waiting for you to transfer them to your computer when you get 10 minutes to spare.

The average person takes 150 new photos every month. Take into account the impact that having a baby has on the number of photos you take, and I guess you’re taking a lot more than that. When you want to find a particular photo, you have to sift through dozens, hundreds or (if you’re like me) thousands of photos. Most people take pictures then leave them on their cameras and mobiles, and only access them when needed – to share on Instagram or send to friends and family. As a result, many photos get lost and memories are gone forever.

So, what can you do to keep your pictures organized? Our key tips will help take the stress out of organizing your pictures.

Tip #1 – Label your photos

This is the equivalent of writing on the back of a printed picture. The difference with digital images is you can instantly search through these labels and find related photos. Add your child’s name to a couple of photos and you can then search by name to see other photos of your child. Your phone can also search by the location where the photo was taken, and other photos other features of the photo (try searching highchair, cat or wine). It’s like having your own internal search engine for your pictures.

Tip #2 – Delete, delete, delete

Phones and digital cameras are great because you can take as many pictures as you want until you run out of storage space. But do you really need 18 photos of your child in the same pose? Although you may want to save many photos of the same subject, there are some you’ll probably never want – pictures that are out of focus, pictures of your kids with their eyes closed, unintentional shots of your hand or the inside of your bag. Start a routine that keeps just the photos you actually want.

Tip #3 – Align Your Time

Check the date and time on your camera, these settings can slip over time. While some cameras update themselves as the clocks change, many don’t. When the time and date is correct all the photos taken at the same time will appear next to each other in your photo library. This is especially important when you’re downloading photos from two or more sources such as your digital camera and smartphone or when you’re downloading photos from a friend. With the correct date and timestamps, photos taken at the same time of the same subject will appear next to each other in your photo library, making it easier to browse to find your favorite photos.

Tip #4 – Preserve Those Memories

No matter where your photos are, you need to make sure you have them backed up. Phones get lost / dropped down the toilet, computer hard drives die. All electronic equipment fails at some point, and you don’t want to lose your precious photos with it. Your backup must be on a different device otherwise it is not a real backup. Two backups are even better, one of these should be in the cloud or out of the house. An automatic backup system is even better, then you know your precious memories are always safe.

Tip #5 – Start Your New System Now

However you decide to organize your photos, if you currently have thousands of unorganized photos you’re not going to get them organized straight away. The best way to approach the task is to establish a system today that works how you want it to. All photos you take from not on follow the new system. Then when you have 5 minutes go back and organize what you can of your existing photos.

Organising photos might not be as exciting as learning how to capture beautiful images of your children, but is more important. With just a little thought and attention you can make sure your memories are safe and easy to find.