Practical Advice on July 4 Pyrotechnics What do you need to take fireworks photos that truly sparkle? David Rivera of George's Camera and Video in San Diego offers some tips. And Morrie Dym, a regional manager for Phantom Fireworks, talks about legal pyrotechnics.

Practical Advice on July 4 Pyrotechnics

Practical Advice on July 4 Pyrotechnics

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What do you need to take fireworks photos that truly sparkle? David Rivera of George's Camera and Video in San Diego offers some tips. And Morrie Dym, a regional manager for Phantom Fireworks, talks about legal pyrotechnics.


Fireworks may be the most memorable part of July 4th celebrations, but capturing fireworks with your camera can be tricky. Even the biggest, most vivid displays never seem to come out right in pictures. For some expert tips on photographing fireworks, we spoke with David Rivera. He's the owner of George's Camera and Video in San Diego, and David Rivera recommends using a digital camera.

Mr. DAVID RIVERA (George's Camera and Video): You want to look for a nighttime photography mode or a bulb setting. If you don't own a tripod, you want to set the camera on a still object. When the fireworks go off, you don't have a whole lot of time to prepare, because you don't know when the burst is actually going to be visible. So you're going to use the bulb setting, hold the camera shutter open, we recommend that you use a black card or a lens cap and hold it over there until you visibly see the fireworks going off. So you pull it away, the fireworks go off. As soon as they're gone, you put the lens cap back over the lens.

BRAND: That's David Rivera, owner of George's Camera and Video in San Diego.

For those who prefer their fireworks small and backyard-safe, there are a few options. In California, some counties allow the sale of what are called safe and sane fireworks. They sparkle and make noise but don't cause real explosions. Phantom Fireworks is one of the country's biggest suppliers of these safe fireworks. We visited their Southern California warehouse for a demonstration.

Mr. MORRIE DYM (Regional Manager, Phantom Fireworks): Hi, this is Morrie Dym. I'm the regional manager for Phantom Fireworks of Southern California, and I'm in the backyard of our main warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, and we're about to set off some really cool fireworks.

This one is the New Yorker Fountain.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. DYM: What we sell in California is called Class C non-explosive, and so they don't blow up. They make a lot of, they make noise, the sparkle, they fizzle, they put on a great light show, beautiful colors, and it's good entertainment for the family.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. DYM: The selling period for fireworks in California is only from June 28 to July 4, so it takes us, we spend a whole year preparing to do our business in four to six days, and logistically, it's an incredible feat of placing the stands and lining up all the permits. Every city has a different ordinance and a different regulation, and doing our business and then shutting it all down.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. DYM: Put some water on it. Okay, this is called the Whistling Phantom. I'm going to light them now. You want two? We can do two. Might as well, I love fireworks. Okay, hold on. Here we go.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. DYM: Whistling Phantom. This is called the Apache Fire Dance Fountain.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Mr. DYM: Obviously you don't do this in your house, and you want to keep it away from structures, as far as you can, and also you want to keep children back and safe. Safety is the key to enjoying a fireworks show. Thanks for coming down to Phantom of Southern California.

BRAND: That's Morrie Dym, regional manager of Phantom Fireworks in Southern California. He spoke with DAY TO DAY's Rob Sachs.

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Night Vision: Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

Get a tripod and a good camera you can focus manually -- and stay upwind to avoid smoke. istock hide caption

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Get a tripod and a good camera you can focus manually -- and stay upwind to avoid smoke.


Photographing fireworks takes preparation and more than a little luck. Start too early and you get a lot of streaking and not enough burst. Start too late and you get additional bursts that ruin your shot. Not to worry. Read on for a few tricks to capture impressive Fourth of July shots:

• Use a camera that lets you set the exposure, such as an SLR model with manual controls (instead of a point-and-shoot).

• Use a slow-speed film (or a slow setting if using a digital camera), such as ISO 100.

• Set the aperture to f8 or f11. (Feel free to experiment, but this is a good starting point.)

• Focus on the first fireworks that launch, then leave the focus set there. You won't be able to focus quickly enough while fireworks are launching. The simplest thing is just to switch to manual focus, and set the focus to infinity (or set the program mode to landscape mode -- the icon is usually a mountain range).

• Turn off your flash.

• Use a tripod (ideal) or brace yourself against a steady object (less than ideal. You can't hand hold an exposure that lasts for seconds without blurring the shot).

• Set the shutter speed to B (Bulb).

• If you're using a digital camera, set the quality to the camera's highest setting.

• Use a cable release to depress the shutter (and avoid camera shake). If you don't have a cable, try the camera's timer -- but a timer obviously provides less flexibility.

• Use a long exposure -- try from just less than 1 second to 15 seconds.

• Shoot often. Try opening the shutter when you hear the mortar launch, and shoot some just before the burst begins. To capture multiple bursts, use a longer exposure (try waiting until the sky is dark to end the exposure).

• Shoot near an identifiable object to give your shot context.

• Save some film (or memory if you're using a digital camera) to capture the finale.

Sources: Smithsonian Institution; Kodak,