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2 July 2015

Our heart goes out to photographers every year at this time. The Fourth of July rolls around, families and friends gather to watch the fireworks and the cameras come out. That's all that comes out, though. The photos are usually a disaster.

You couldn't pick a more difficult shot for an automatic camera. A brilliant streak of color against a black background that lasts for a second or three. Neither your digicam nor your smartphone is clever enough to figure it out. They will try to expose the black for gray, rendering the fireworks themselves as tiny wiggly white streaks.

This is a job that requires manual control of the camera.

So every year there's a parade of tips and tutorials for taking fireworks with each Web site devoted to photography prancing around in glittering costumes, beating their drums and tooting their horns. We're apparently no better.

We do like to point to one of the best of these tutorials every year, Joe McNally's chapter on the subject from the LIFE Guide to Digital Photography.

But this year we thought we'd also slip in a video just for comparison's sake. Mark Wallace did a very good one for Adorama TV a few years ago. Compare his suggestions with McNally's and you'll see some common themes:

  • Use a tripod
  • Use a shutter release
  • Use a wide angle lens
  • Set the aperture to f8 or smaller
  • Set the ISO to 100
  • Set the shutter on Bulb or use a black card

We'd just add that recent cameras can be remotely controlled with a smartphone over WiFi, which is probably more convenient that trying to find a shutter release.

Even some not-so-recent cameras can be controlled that way with software like Triggertrap and devices like the Weye Feye we reviewed a while ago. You plug a receiver into the camera (Triggertrap uses an iOS device) to control it and you send commands via WiFi from your tablet or smartphone.

Otherwise McNally and Wallace have everything covered.

Except maybe one more thing. Bring your coat.

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