How to photograph fireworks with iPhone & Slow Shutter Cam

As the announced fireworks here in Vienna was canceled because of bad weather conditions, I hopped on a train and went to Linz, my home town, to the see and photograph a firework at a bi-yearly fun fair called the “Urfahraner Market”; a fun fair that was established in 1817.

The firework happens right near the Danube and is best watched (and photographed) from the nearby bridge called “Nibelungenbrücke.”

So, first, here are a few sample shot of the fireworks I took with the iPhone.

And now, here’s my tutorial on how to photograph fireworks with an iPhone including a pro tip for Slow Shutter Cam App that I discovered a while ago.

Here’s what you need to photograph fireworks with iPhone

  • A tripod and iPhone tripod mount

  • A remote shutter release

  • Slow Shutter Cam App

  • Fireworks, obvisouly.

Tripod and iPhone tripod mount.

You can use basically any tripod with iPhone, provided you have a proper iPhone tripod mount. For the past years, I’ve been using the AmazonBasics travel tripod that I wrote about a while ago. It’s affordable, light and fits into my Osprey Farpoint 40 carry-on compliant backpack and my Goonex foldable backpack that I use as a daypack.

As for the tripod mount, I use the Joby Griptight and Griptight Pro mounts. For those fireworks photos, I used the Joby Griptight Pro mount.

Remote Shutter Release

I consider this essential for photographing fireworks with iPhone and I strongly recommend using a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter release. I also tried using the timer that’s built into Slow Shutter Cam App, but that one didn’t work out for me.

Secondly, I recommend using a remote shutter release that you can operate without looking at it (this basically eliminates using Apple Watch) because your eyes should be at the sky where all the action is happening.

Slow Shutter Cam App

I won’t go into much detail about this app. I already reviewed Slow Shutter Cam App a while ago in the blog. Just this much: It’s an app that enables you to take long exposures with iPhone.

Preparing your iPhone and Slow Shutter Cam App to photograph fireworks

So once you’ve set up your trip, we need to take care of a few iPhone and app settings.

  • First, turn off auto-lock in the iPhone Settings. You usually don’t have much time when photographing fireworks; so you don’t want your iPhone to accidentally turn off.

  • Then, switch to light trail mode in Slow Shutter Cam App

  • Based from learnings from previous attempts to photograph fireworks with an iPhone, I set light sensitivity to 1/2

  • I set shutter speed to bulb. More on that in a minute

  • Set ISO to 80 to avoid noise as much as possible.

Settings I used for photographing a firework with Slow Shutter Cam App

Settings I used for photographing a firework with Slow Shutter Cam App

Once we’ve applied the above settings, tap on an object in the distance on the screen to set focus and exposure. And now, the most crucial part, we’ll lock AE and AF in Slow Shutter Cam app to avoid the autofocus to kick in. You do that by taping the AE and AF icons in the toolbar, so they turn to a lock.

AE and AF lock in Slow Shutter Cam App

AE and AF lock in Slow Shutter Cam App

Now let’s wait for the fireworks to begin.

Photographing fireworks with iPhone

Here’s a little pro tip, before you start to photograph. Slow Shutter Cam App is capable of doing multiple exposures into one, single, frame. The trick here is to have auto save turned off in Slow Shutter Cam App. Then, after you take a photo, Slow Shutter Cam App will display a little toolbar at the bottom of the screen asking you if you’d like to discard, edit or save your photo. Don’t tap any of those options. Just press the shutter release again, and you’ll create a second exposure in the same photo. This is how I got this photo, which is actually four exposures.

Multiple exposures in a single frame taken with Slow Shutter Cam App

Multiple exposures in a single frame taken with Slow Shutter Cam App

To trigger the shutter, I used the Joby Impulse remote shutter release. It’s small and easy to use. Now, looking at the sky, I triggered the shutter release whenever I saw the light trail of a firework rocket and pressed the shutter release again 1-2 seconds after it exploded. That’s why I set the shutter release to bulb mode in Slow Shutter Cam App.

Adjustments you may need to make

Try to take some photos right when the firework was set off. Use those photos to validate the settings. If the photo looks too bright in the sense that you just see bright, white, light instead of colors of the exploding rockets, you may need to turn down light sensitivity a notch from, e.g. 1/2 to 1/4. Don’t turn up ISO, or the black, nightly sky may become quite noisy

And now, let’s take some great iPhone photos of fireworks together. And if there's no firework near you, I've written a few tutorials and reviews about apps that will help you to take fantastic long exposures with iPhone.