Fourth of July Photo Tips

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'Tis the season to gather friends and family for BBQ, laughter, and blowing stuff up in honor of our freedom. Here are some quick tips on how to make sure you accurately record the festivities with your camera.

  • People
    • Crank up that ISO. Higher ISO means you might be able to snap away without a flash, depending on the ambient light in your driveway. I'm assuming here that everyone sets out lawn chairs in the driveway to watch the neighborhood fireworks.
    • Open up your aperture. It will mean shallower depth-of-field, so you'll want to watch your focus points, but an open aperture lets more available light in, which helps in dimly-lit situations.
    • Watch your shutter speed. Keep it above 1/30th of a second. Even at 1/30th, you're bound to get some blurring, but for an event like this, getting the photo of Uncle Ed falling through the lawn chair is often more important than making sure it's perfect.
    • For those of you shooting on a DSLR, sometimes it helps to use the manual setting. Set your aperture as wide as possible (lower number,) and your shutter speed to 1/30th of a second. Crank your ISO to 3200 and fire off a few shots. Adjust the ISO as necessary to get the right exposure.
    • Point and shoot camera? Check for a low-light mode in your camera's menu, and be sure to turn the automatic flash off if you can.
  • Fireworks
    • Grab a tripod. You're going for longer exposures here, so you'll need a tripod to reduce camera shake. Using lens with a wider angle will make it easier to capture explosions all over the night sky.
    • If your camera has auto-focus, turn it off. Set your focus to infinity
    • I like to start at an aperture of ƒ8
    • ISO between 400 and 800
    • Experiment with shutter speed. Two to three seconds is good if your timing is perfect. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more noise you'll need to deal with in the photos.
    • If your camera has the option, use a two-second timer. That gives you just enough time to take your hand off the camera after pressing the shutter button to eliminate shake. Let's face it–after a few beers and near misses with those bottle rockets, you're not the steadiest person on the block.
    • Point-and-shooters: check for a Fireworks mode in your camera's menu.

Most importantly: Don't forget to set the camera down from time to time so you an actually enjoy the evening.