British Columbia

Fireworks Photos: Celebration of Light mobile phone tips

Scott Rankin and Maurice Li share a few tips on how to make those fireworks photos picture-perfect, even with a mobile phone.

Expert photographers give On the Coast a few pointers on how to capture those pyrotechnic shots

CBC web writer Jenni Sheppard took this shot of the Celebration of Light fireworks on her Nexus 5 mobile phone. (Jenni Sheppard)

We've all seen it. Spectators holding up mobile photos and even tablets trying to capture the fiery blasts of fireworks. Often, the resulting images fall short of expectations.

If that's you, we've enlisted some help to make sure you capture those fireworks on your screen — on the first try.

  • Feeling creative? Send us your fireworks photos at

To prepare for Vancouver's Celebration of Light, On the Coast spoke with two leading Instagram photographers based in Vancouver to get their tips on how to take perfect pics of the pyrotechnics.

1. Lock and load

This little known tip is simple but will likely make the biggest difference. iPhones find it challenging to focus and balance exposure levels when fireworks are blasting away in a dark sky.

To prevent an inevitable delay and shaky photos, Scott Rankin's first tip is to use the iPhone's "AE/AF lock" function.

You can take great fireworks shots if you keep just a few things in mind while focusing your photo. (Scott Rankin)

"Wait for a firework of good size and brightness, tap the focus and hold on to it. Focus on that one firework," says Rankin. Then every time you see a firework that makes you go ooh and ahh, you can just press the shutter button and your focus and exposure levels will already be set."

2. Relativity 

To give your fireworks context, Rankin suggests including an object in the foreground. 

"For example, have a shot of the barge and show the fireworks jumping off of it. That's what will really give a story and narrative to your photo rather than just an explosion in the sky."

3. Steady does it 

If you find it challenging to steady your hand among the crowds, consider using a flexible tripod which lets you station your phone on most static surfaces. 

4. There's an app for that

For those who want to get creative, try one of the many photography apps that offer effects beyond your mobile device's capacity.

Rankin recommends Slow Shutter which takes multiple photographs each time you press the shutter. 

You can take fantastic fireworks photos if you make sure you have the right exposure and use a tripod. (Scott Rankin)

"You'll get cool light trails, the bulb of the firework exploding into the air," says Rankin. "But in order to get a successful shot with that, you're going to need a tripod."  

Maurice Li likes the app Tadaa SLR. The app can blur specific areas of your image to create the look of a shallow depth of field -- an effect usually only found in photographs taken by SLR cameras. 

Li's budget saving trick if you don't want to pay for the app? 

"Just lock your focus on something close, like your hand, or another nearby object."

5. Fix it in post 

Both Rankin and Li recommend using the Android and Apple friendly app Snapseed to edit photos. Rankin finds the precision of the spot editing function particularly useful. 

"You can choose the sky for instance....and darken the brightness of it," says Rankin. "All of a sudden that becomes a true black and your fireworks really pop."  

Li also points out that you should avoid using your mobile device's zoom function. 

"It severely decreases the quality of your photo. It's much better to crop to your liking afterwards."

If all else fails? Just enjoy the fireworks for what they are or search for photos that others have taken at #vancouverfireworks on Twitter or Instagram.


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