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How to capture the excitement of Bonfire night on your smartphone

Lucie Spraggs's picture

I love bonfire night; I love being bundle up in all my layers, clutching sparklers in gloved hands (safety first kids!) and most of all I love fireworks!

What I don't love is the disappointment of getting to the end of the night and looking through the photos and videos you took on your phone. Only to find the automatic settings have stolen the sparkle, pop and crackle of the evening and left you with a pretty uninspiring display. Hopefully not anymore, with these 10 secrets to capturing great firework footage.

Photographing fireworks with your phone

1. Don't zoom

It's really tempting to zoom in and fill the screen with firework, but zooming in on fireworks will create loads of visual noise (this is because the zoom on your phone is digital and not optical). You're better off trying to get to the event early so you can bag the best vantage point.

2. Use "landscape" mode

Your phone will automatically try to find an object to focus on, when you present it with a black featureless sky, it doesn't know what to do. However, if you change your phone's settings to "landscape" mode, you'll be pre-setting the focus to infinity and narrowing the lend opeing, which keeps both near and far objects in focus.

Some phones don't have the landscape mode, but you should be able to set the focus to infinity. There's an infinity focus option with Camera FV-5 (in Google Play) for Android phones. For iPhones, you can use Camera+ (in App Store) and manually select and set a focal point in the distance.

3. Turn off the flash

By turning off the flash, you are telling your phone that it only has available light to take a picture. This means that the camera will kepp the shutter open for long enough to capture the firework.

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. Turn off HDR mode

HDR (HIgh Dynamic Range) is great for outdoor and landscape scenes, but not good for fireworks. It often causes blurry or unfocused results, so it's best to turn it off in your phone's camera settings.

6. Try before you buy

One great tip is to test out your camera skills before the main event. Try and get some snaps and videos of sparklers before the fireworks kick off, not only are sparklers brill, they can serve a practical purpose too. They create very similar lighting conditions to fireworks, and will allow you to make sure your exposure settings are right before the first big bang.

7. Timelapse or Slo-mo

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 Bonfire night.

8. It's not all about the fireworks

Consider mixing in clips of spectators, the bonfire and burning of the guy, people playing with sparklers, and other related happenings that capture the Guy Fawkes night. 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.

9. Use specialised apps

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:

iPhone

  • MoviePro
  • Kinomatic Video Camera
     

Android

  • Cinema FV-5
  • Time Lapse Video Recorder
     

10. Make sure you get bang for your buck

Half the excitement of fireworks is the the noises they make, but capturing the snaps crackles and bangs of fireworks exploding overhead is tricky. The built-in microphone on your phone just won't cut it. Here you have a couple of options to bring the magic to the small screen. The first being an external microphone, check out the link here to see what's available.

The opther option is to use sound effects. You'll find plenty of real recordings of firework for free online, for example check out these. The only challenge this presents is timing them with the display... remember light travels faster than sound.