Photographers love to shoot Independence Day fireworks all across the country. Why shouldn't we? America has 239 years of history in blowing stuff up, so we ought to have some photos of our true national pastime.
Getting Ready for Independence Day Fireworks
The week leading up to Independence Day is rather predictable. Plenty of photography blogs pump out articles with tips and tutorials about shooting fireworks.
I'm not entirely sure if we can trust all of those folks, though. For most of the country, fireworks happen twice per year – New Year's Eve and Independence Day. That doesn't give them a lot of time to become proficient.
There were no fireworks tutorials on my site this year, but I happen to live in a place where there is plenty of opportunity to practice. Walt Disney World shoots of fireworks every night of the year. They even have their own brand of fireworks. Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios make every night explode.
You'd think I'd know what to expect in the show, but I don't.
This is the great challenge of photographing Independence Day fireworks. You have to be ready for the big moment before it happens, but you don't know when it's going to happen.
At best, you get a lucky shot. You need to open your shutter before the start of the big scene and keep it open for the rain of pyrotechnic fire, however long that takes. All the while, you're hoping to get a nice exposure without blowing out the scene or underexposing the shot.
In addition to all of that, you really don't even know where those fireworks are going to explode. Sure, you expect to see some explosions over an iconic building, but there's generally more of a wide-angle view that most people don't see.
As luck would have it, our friends Ron and Lenise Zika of Kingdom Camera Rentals invited us over to their suite at Disney's Contemporary Resort to watch the fireworks show. We had a great time visiting with friends and enjoyed two private balconies to setup our tripods to shoot the show.
Once we arrived, it looked like this:
Nothing but afternoon Florida thunderstorms raining so hard that you could barely see Cinderella Castle. That made scouting for a composition a bit difficult.
Fortunately, summer rain in Florida usually doesn't last very long and we started getting a better view.
Selecting Your Composition For Fireworks
For most of my fireworks shots, my compositions centered on fireworks surrounding an object to anchor the photos in a place.
Didn't matter to me whether I was in front, back or on an angle.
Sometimes I could be just as happy exploring the aftermath of the fireworks when smoke and light collide.
This time, I had a completely new and unexplored opportunity shooting fireworks from Disney's Contemporary Resort. It turns out that the fireworks have a much wider range than you would ever experience while in the park.
It was almost a 180 degree field of view from the Contemporary. On my left, the fireworks started across the Seven Seas Lagoon by the Polynesian and wrapped around to well behind Space Mountain. One person in our group managed to get most of that field of view in one shot while shooting with an 8 mm lens.
I made a different choice, preferring to use my Nikon 24-70mm lens.
While I didn't get the expansive view of all the fireworks, I based my decision on a desire to show something of the place where the fireworks were displayed. When you go really wide angle, you lose details that tell part of the story.
I didn't just want shots of fireworks. I wanted people to know these were photos of fireworks at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Neither choice is wrong. It's just a decision to tell the story that you want to tell while realizing that you can't have it all.
Once I made my decision, the rest was rather easy. Just press and hold the shutter while the fireworks went up and release when the sky went dark. Then start all over before the next batch went up.
When shooting fireworks, be prepared to have a lot of crap. In fact, you may not get anything that you want to show to someone else, and that's OK. It's a crap shoot. You aren't in control of the subject, the weather, or possibly even where you stand.
I managed to end up with a shot that made me happy this time around, but the best part was hanging out with my family and friends for a great Independence Day fireworks show.