How to Photograph 4th of July on Film – Day or Night

Capturing the vibrant and dynamic scenes of 4th of July celebrations on film can be a thrilling experience, especially for a new film photographer. The 4th of July has been important for me to capture for years for several reasons. Besides it being the anniversary of our nation’s independence, it’s always been a time where we come together with family and friends at the lake. It’s our tradition and my 18 & 16 year old still look forward to it every year. I’ve been shooting the 4th on film for ages, and thought I’d share how I do it with you. Here’s a detailed guide on how to photograph 4th of July on film – day or night!

how to photograph 4th of july on film day or night
how to photograph 4th of July on film day or night

Choosing the Right Film – daytime vs. nighttime

For capturing the 4th at night like fireworks and sparklers, you’ll want to use a film with a moderate to high ISO to balance sensitivity with grain. ISO 400 film is a good choice because it offers enough sensitivity for low-light conditions without producing too much grain. Some popular options include Kodak Portra 400, Fuji 400h, and Kodak Gold 200. These films also provide excellent color rendition (especially those Fuji reds!), which is great for the vibrant colors of fireworks.

For capturing the 4th during the day, all of those film stocks above work but to get really gorgeous pops of red, white, and blue, I’d always pick Fuji 400h (if I had some) and Kodak Ektar 100. Also see my post about 3 great film stocks for summer shooting.

Equipment Needed to Photograph 4th of July on Film

  1. Camera and Lens: A 35mm camera and a nifty-fifty or wider angle lens work well day or night to capture your 4th of July scene and expansive skies. I like both and have a 50mm lens on my Canon 1-V, and also have a fun point-and-shoot that has a 35mm lens to play around with. For night photography, a sturdy tripod is essential if you want those long exposures showing the full firework or sparkler trail. (Ironically in the sparkler images below I did not use a tripod but held my breath!)
  2. Settings: For shooting during the day, I sometimes meter with my Sekonic L-358 but most of the time I am near water and want to pack light, so I will just use my in-camera spot meter and the Zone system to figure out my exposure and settings.
  3. Tripod: A solid tripod is important for stabilizing your camera during long exposures at night. This prevents blurring. Like I said above, if you don’t have a tripod you can try holding your breath, stabilizing your camera with something else like a chair or railing. If you don’t particularly need long exposures, you can also open your aperture wider to allow for a faster shutter speed.
  4. Cable Release or Remote Shutter: This is optional but to avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter button, use a cable release or a remote shutter at night.
how to photography 4th of july on film day or night

Camera Settings for photographing 4th of July on Film at Night

Fireworks

  1. Focus: Set your camera to manual focus and pre-focus at infinity. This is generally where fireworks will be in focus since they are far away.
  2. Aperture: Start with an aperture of around f/8 to f/16. The smaller aperture (higher f-number) helps in getting a deeper depth of field, keeping more of the fireworks in focus.
  3. Shutter Speed: Use a bulb mode or long exposure. This allows you to open the shutter when the fireworks begin and close it after the burst has finished, capturing the entire trajectory of the fireworks. Typical exposures might range from 2 to 8 seconds, depending on the amount of ambient light and the intensity of the fireworks. Play around with it and write notes!
  4. ISO: Stick with the native ISO of your chosen film (e.g., ISO 400). Adjust exposure times to compensate for different lighting conditions rather than changing the film speed.
How to Photograph 4th of July on Film - day or night

Sparklers and Evening Festivities

  1. Focus: Use manual focus and adjust according to the distance of your subject (e.g., people holding sparklers).
  2. Aperture: Open up the aperture to allow more light in since sparklers are less intense than fireworks. Aperture settings like f/2.8 or f/4 can work well.
  3. Shutter Speed: Shorter exposures work better for sparklers to capture the sparkle without too much motion blur. Try starting at 1/30 or 1/60 second and adjust based on the effect you’re looking for. In these images I started at 1/60 and it wasn’t slow enough to capture the painting, so I went a whopping 15 sec and 30 sec to get these. If I were you I would experiment and I think 1-2 seconds would be enough if you just want one letter outline or one shape!
  4. ISO: Keep it at ISO 400 for a good balance between sensitivity and grain.
  5. Metering: For all of these I used my in-camera meter and the Zone System. I was spot metering on the highlights.
how to photograph 4th of July sparklers on film

Additional Tips for photographing 4th of July on Film

  • Experiment with Exposure: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different exposure times to see what gives you the best results. Write your notes down or use your phone’s voice memos to record what you did. You’d be kicking yourself if you had an amazing image and couldn’t remember your settings!
  • Multiple Exposures: If your camera supports it, trying out multiple exposures on a single frame can lead to interesting and creative results.
  • Safety: Always remember to maintain a safe distance from fireworks and sparklers to avoid accidents.
how to photograph 4th of july on film in daytime double exposure with american flag
how to photograph 4th of July on film day or night

I hope this post will help you photograph 4th of July on Film day or night! It should help you capture stunning photos of daytime activities and double exposures as well as nighttime festivities like fireworks and sparklers with your 35mm film camera. Remember, film photography often involves trial and error, so use these settings as a starting point and adjust based on your specific conditions and creative vision. Enjoy the process!

how to photograph 4th of July on film day or night
how to photograph 4th of july on film day or night
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