It's too early to begin thinking about the Fourth of July. Isn't it?

Actually, no it's not. Not, at least, if this year you're determined to capture those glorious bursts of color on film. Despite what you may have thought, getting good quality photos of fireworks in mid-burst entails more than luck. It means being in the right place at the right time, sure. But it also requires having the right camera and film combination, as well as the right shooting techniques.

Basically, there are two different situations for fireworks displays. Approach each one differently, depending upon what you want in your July 4th photos. AERIAL DISPLAYS. These are generally the most dramatic fireworks shots you can get, and these, too, can be broken into two general categories -- fireworks against black sky and fireworks over lighted night subjects.

To capture fireworks against a black sky, you'll need a camera with a Time of Bulb setting -- some means of tripping the shutter and keeping it open for prolonged periods of time. Or an automatic-exposure SLR (aperture preferred works best) will work if it has a slow shutter speed of two seconds or longer.

The technique is fairly simple. Using a lens cap or your hand to cover the lens until you're ready to make the exposure, trip the camera's shutter and keep it open. Then, when the fireworks display you want to capture appears overhead, simply aim the camera skyward (with the lens pre-focused on infinity), remove the lens cap and handhold the camera there for the required period of time before placing the lens cap. For a modern-painting effect, jiggle the camera a bit while making the exposure.

You can create a more dramatic shot by repeating the process two or more times on the same frame of film -- creating double or multiple exposure which overlap and complement each other. When you're finished with the exposures, close the camera's shutter and advance the film to the next frame while awaiting a new round of fireworks.

If you have an aperture-priority auto-exposure camera, simply set the camera for automatic operation, aim it skyward, and press the shutter release button while shooting the fireworks. Keep both eyes open while shooting your single-lens reflex camera so you can see what's happening (the eye against the viewfinder window will go "black" as the long exposure is made). If you hear the shutter close before you've had a chance to create a multiple exposure, simply set the camera up for multiple exposures (read your camera manual) and repeat the procedure above.

As a general rule, use an aperture of f/8 for ASA 64 film; f/11 for ASA 125-200 film; f/16 for ASA 400 film.

If you want a dramatic photograph of a lighted building (like the town hall or state capitol) with fireworks bursting overhead, you'll need to mount your camera on a tripod or other firm support. Use your camera's meter to give you the required settings (perhaps 1/30 second at f/2.8), set the lens for sharp focus (it should be infinity if you want both building and fireworks in focus) and shoot when you see the bombs bursting o'erhead. GROUND DISPLAYS. You can capture lighted figurines, people twirling sparklers, etc. by using a fairly fast film and a reasonably fast shutter speed combination. Rely on ASA 400 and a camera setting of around 1/60 second at f/4 (or 1/125 second at f/2.8). That should get you exactly what you're looking for in a colorful, dramatic Fourth of July shot. Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A Q: I have a four-year-old Canon AE-1 that hasn't been abused. I recently tried to advance the film I was loading, and it advanced only twice before the shutter froze. I pushed the release several times after removing the lens and winder and let the camera sit a few days. Later, on the first try, it released but then it froze again. What could the problem be? Batteries? Electronics? Demons? A: Probably weak batteries. Many cameras with electronically controlled shutters refuse to operate as the batteries weaken. Take the camera to the nearest photo dealer and see if new batteries don't, indeed, give you new life. Q: I recently took six rolls of film to a reputable photo lab for development. I shot them on a one-month trip to Italy. In due course, I received a package of photos. One of the sets wasn't mine, and one of my rolls was missing. I returned the stray set and requested that the lab check to see if my shots of Italy had been brought back. To date, I haven't received my photos .

Now, these shots were once-in-a-lifetime photographs. They cannot be replaced. The lab sent me a check for the pre-paid processing and price of a roll of film, which doesn't satisfy me. I want the shots I took on this very expensive trip. I'll probably never go to Italy again and, if I did, the circumatances won't be the same. I could have sent my film to a mail-order lab and saved some money, but I felt I'd be better off dealing with these "pros" in St. Louis. I'd have been better off with "not-quite-so-good pictures than with no pictures at all. What do you think? Isn't not-so-good better than none at all? A: Fortunately, mixups like this don't occur often. Unfortunately, this good news doesn't help you get your photos back. If I knew of a lab that could guarantee 100 percent perfection in processing, I'd share the name with you. You could, of course, get into processing your own color photos, but then you run the risk of making a mistake and ruining some shots, yourself.

About the best thing I can suggest is this: If you receive photos that aren't yours, return them at once to the processor. While they may be of little or no interest to you, they could be extremely important to the photographer who took them.