Want better fireworks photos? Just shoot video

For a frustration-free experience, set it and forget it.

The Fourth of July is, without question, the greatest American holiday. Burgers, beer, Bill Pullman—there’s nothing like it.

Of course, no Fourth of July celebration is complete without fireworks, because nothing screams “independence” like blowing stuff up. You love fireworks, I love fireworks. And if you’re into photography, you’re probably wondering, “How can I take good pictures of fireworks?”

Fireworks hero


Skyrockets in Flight: Photographing Fireworks

It’s a common question, and there's no shortage of articles out there to help you in your quest. The advice is usually pretty simple: Use a slow shutter speed, bring a tripod, just try to keep things steady. But if you’re like me, after a few hours at a barbecue, “steady” is no longer a viable option.

A few years ago I stumbled across the perfect solution. I pulled my phone out during a fireworks display and, without thinking, hit the record button. It took a few seconds before I realized that I was recording video, not still images. My first instinct was to switch back to taking stills, but when I actually looked at what I was recording, I was much happier with the results.

The video you can get these days—even with smartphones—is incredibly sharp and lifelike, and using it to capture a fireworks display comes with all kinds of other advantages. Most importantly, video captures the other half of every fireworks show: the audio.

Even if high-res photos are what you're after, you can just pull a still from the video.

(As a proud Boston-area resident, the best fireworks display I have access to is on the Charles River, down by the Esplanade. It’s special not just for the quality of the explosives, but for the accompanying orchestral performance by the Boston Pops.)

Even if high-resolution stills are what you're really after, with new 4K-capable smartphones and cameras you can just pull a still from the video. Every frame of a 4K clip can serve as an 8-megapixel photo—the same resolution you get from a still taken with your iPhone.

If you have a dedicated camera like the Panasonic GX85, LX100, or G7, this is made even easier with the help of a “4K Photo Mode.” With this feature, you just hold down the shutter button and you’re effectively capturing 4K-sized photos at 30 frames per second. It doesn’t give you quite the same effect as a true video, but you can then select the ideal 8-megapixel photo and easily save it as a separate image.

If you do settle on recording video this July 4th, there are a few things to keep in mind. A higher frame rate is best, so if your phone or camera has a 60fps option, use that. If you have an iPhone 6 or other smartphone with slo-motion video recording, those can also produce great results—the downside being that these modes usually don’t record audio.

So that’s my secret. Forget photos and try capturing fireworks with video instead. Why? Because capturing video of fireworks is the easiest thing in the world, and you aren't "that guy" lugging a 10-pound tripod around.

Great results with minimal effort? Now that's something worth celebrating.

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