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Smith: Here's how to take good fireworks pictures
Times photographer offers expert advice
A firework display is put on Saturday at Laurel Park in Gainesville. Thousands showed up to celebrate the Fourth of July. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Fireworks have become one of the most revered American traditions to celebrate the independence of the United States. Celebration of the Fourth of July brings family and friends together to have fun on a muggy summer night and watch the sky light up, but fireworks can be one of the most difficult things to photograph.

See photos from Saturday's fireworks at Laurel Park.

Pictures turn out too blurry or just look like a bunch of floating bright dots or may confuse your camera to the point where it doesn’t want to work at all. The photos almost never match the painting the pyrotechnic team creates across the sky during its 15-minute display.

There are a few key techniques to keep in mind if you are hoping to capture the magic of the fireworks lighting up the sky this Fourth of July.

• One of the first things you want to do is scope out a good location. A spot that will give you a sense of place, whether it is a well-known building, some sort of structure, a body of water that will create a reflection of the fireworks or just a field full of people.

• You will also want to make sure you have a tripod. You will need to be able to slow down your shutter speed, and due to the natural shake of your hands, you will almost always get blurry shots without a tripod.

• Point-and-shoot cameras and cellphones will do very little good when it comes to taking photos of fireworks, so you'll want a camera that you can switch into manual mode in order for you to be able to be in complete control.

• When you're getting your camera set up for the first of the sparks, you’ll set your ISO to around 200, F-stop at about 8, and you’ll want your shutter to stay open for about 4 seconds to get the light streaking across the sky. You may want to leave the shutter open for even longer depending on how many bursts of fireworks you want to show up in your photograph. You will be underexposing the photo, so the bursts of light aren’t too bright for your camera. Make sure you get your settings about where you would like them to be before the first firework explodes. Once the show begins, it will be over before you know it.

• Have fun. Play around with your settings. Fireworks are very unpredictable in terms of how much light they put off and how often they explode. Shoot lots. Photographing fireworks is kind of a game of chance. But with a little luck and a little knowledge about how your camera works, you are well on your way to capturing a few frames you will be pleased with.