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How to capture the perfect holiday fireworks photo

Story highlights

  • U.S.'s Independence Day is the perfect celebration for parties, barbecues -- and of course, fireworks.
  • iReporters provided top tips for getting those fantastic fireworks shots
  • Some "study up", others get to know their kit, or just know what shot they want
  • But above all, the most important thing is to enjoy the celebration!

When the time came to grab that killer Fourth of July fireworks photo, Cat Connor was ready.

"It's taken me years to get a good shot," the California native explained.

"I very much planned for it. I studied up on how to shoot fireworks, read photographer blogs and got to know my equipment."

Connor's dedication paid off. In 2011, she captured a frame-worthy shot of several colorful fireworks exploding above California's Eastern Sierra, their glow reflecting off of the lake below. The result is stunning; a fitting memory of a lovely day that perfectly encapsulates all that is great about the holiday celebration.

The Fourth of July honors America's Independence Day, when the nation declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. A national holiday, it's often marked with glorious parades, barbecues, parties and, of course, fireworks.

As part of CNN's series celebrating the biggest, boldest and most spectacular celebrations across the world, we asked people to send in their best Fourth of July images, and to give tips on how to capture the perfect fireworks photo. Here are some handy hints.

Use a tripod

One thing is for sure with fireworks pictures -- you don't want them blurry. So use a tripod to keep everything steady, photographers say.

"I love taking [pictures of] fireworks [but] it's quite tricky," said California-based photographer Biju Chandroth, who snapped a great shot at a Fourth of July fireworks display in Mammoth Lakes, California, in 2011.

"One absolutely needs a tripod, since you will have to use a slow shutter to get the trails."

His sentiment is echoed by professional photographer Edmund Lowe, who has fond memories of spectacular fireworks competitions between families in his neighborhood in Washington state. He also has some great tips for those wanting that iconic Fourth of July shot.

"The main requirement is a tripod, I use a sandbag or some other heavy object to make sure there is no tripod shake," he said.

"[Also], long exposures -- up to 10 seconds -- are required. I generally use an f-stop of f/11 to f/16 and a shutter speed of two to 10 seconds. The longer exposures will also give you time for multiple reports to be visible."

Capture that key moment

Dan Anderson of Minnesota knew what he wanted for his Independence Day shot last year -- and he wasn't going to let anything, not even pesky mosquitoes, get in the way. His great photo captures the moment his nephew launched a bottle rocket across one of Minnesota's many lakes, Lake Koronis.

"We did it in one take and then ran away because the mosquitoes were eating us alive," he remembered with a laugh.

In a similar vein, Tyler Knott from Helena, Montana, captured a memorable photo on July 4, 2009, of his sister, her now-husband and four of her college friends drawing "July 4" using sparklers, with help from a tripod and remote trigger release.

He says despite the challenges -- each sparkler-holder had to draw a character backwards -- they nailed the photo on the first try. The end result was worth the careful planning. "I think a lot of people thought it was Photoshopped," he said.

Take a bunch. Then take some more

It doesn't always take a professional camera to get a great shot, but it does require patience. Marie Sager photographed a spectacular fireworks display in 2010 in Studio City, California, on the CBS studio lot. She used a Panasonic Lumix which, to her surprise, had a "fireworks" setting.

Her advice for those keen to capture great shots is simple: "With fireworks, you never know what to expect, so keep on clicking!" she said. "Everything I photograph is usually straight from the hip, not planned. And I end up usually surprised myself."

Her advice was echoed by Tracy Bond from Huntsville, Alabama, who captured her own stunning images from a celebration in nearby Madison.

"I usually shoot until a get one I like," she shared. "Experiment with different settings and see what you get."

Enjoy yourself!

"A day off from work for many, picnics, maybe some time at the pool or lake, and of course, at the end of the day, sonic booms followed by shimmering, multi-colored fire bringing 'oohs' and 'aahs' from young and old. What's not to like?" Bond asked.

The point is -- make it fun. Too much time worrying about your shot means you won't get the chance to enjoy the celebration. So make sure you, well, celebrate.

You could do worse than take a leaf from Scott Murphy's book. The San Diego resident took some stunning shots over the city bay in 2011. He said the beautiful display reminded him of how glorious his city -- and country -- were.

"It's one of the few times in the year when everybody stops, looks up, and appreciates how beautiful San Diego, is with fireworks going off over the bay," he says.

It's something worth remembering as your crane your neck Thursday evening to check out those glorious displays.

Got some great Fourth of July fireworks photos, or planning to take some? We want to see them! Send us your best pictures and they could be on CNN!

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