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How to take amazing photos at night on your phone

by Kurt Knutsson

Fireworks are back! Large scale spectacular displays are planned again for July 4th around the country.

Capturing the incredible rockets red glare and exploding stars can be tricky with a smartphone especially when there’s only a second or two to snap the perfect shot.

Never fear, a few tips and settings on your phone’s camera app can fine tune and improve your chances of capturing the bursting drama in the evening sky.


How to Take Low-Light and Night photos

Pick Your Location

Find the spot you plan to watch fireworks display and take advantage of your surroundings. For example, try to position yourself to be near water where the reflection of the fireworks will add to the photo. You’ll want to make sure nothing is blocking your chance to take wide angle shots encompassing a giant display of fireworks.

Pro Tip: Photographers often position themselves with the wind at their back so the smoke coming off the fireworks floats behind the display.


Steady Your Phone

Use something to stabilize your phone.  The most important thing to do when taking pictures at night, is to keep the phone camera still.  The best option is a mini tripod like the one I use here or this extendable tripod stand, but the next best thing is to find a stable object like a tree limb, picnic table, street sign to balance your phone against for added stability. This small effort to take any wobble out of your shot can make a huge difference in the quality of photos.


Adjust Camera Settings

Turn off the flash. The newer your phone, the better it should perform at night as a general rule. That shouldn’t stop you from turning off the flash so that it doesn’t accidentally get triggered when snapping fireworks.

Adjust ISO.  Most recent smartphones including iPhone allow you to capture sharp grain-free shots in low light by manually allowing more exposure which makes dark environments come alive.   The newest iPhone 11 and 12 iPhone have a night mode setting for enhancing images taken at night.  It only shows itself when ambient light is low.


How to take amazing photos of fireworks on your phone

Use Night mode.  If your phone camera has this feature, it will improve photos taken at night.  For iPhone 11 & 12

  • Open the camera app
  • Tap and drag up the middle of the screen to reveal advanced camera controls.
  • The night time mode icon looks like a moon.


Take advantage of Scene Detection on later model phones.  Turn Scene Detection on and off by going to Settings  >   Camera   >  toggle Scene Detection to automatically improve photos of various scenes using intelligent image recognition.   For Samsung Galaxy S9 and later its called Scene Optimizer.

After you’ve taken some amazing shots, the native editing features built-in to your photos app can do wonders.   One editing trick is to layer a few fireworks shots on top of each other to make one dramatic photo.  Either way, getting familiar with these low-light camera settings in advance will make for incredible photos of the festive sky full of fireworks.



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