Have a Magical Night!

Have a Magical Night

I photographed this last night at the Magic Kingdom and thought you all might enjoy it :)  Someone said there was some Super Bowl thing going on, but from what I heard about the score, you might as well have been playing minecraft (you might have been better off playing minecraft anyway ;))

By the way, you can checkout my photographing fireworks tutorial to read up on how to create images like these; fireworks can be intimidating at first, but can be one the most straight-forward subjects to shoot (once you get the hang of them).  You’ll need a couple of things (like a good tripod) and, if you can afford it, a remote trigger (I use an radio trigger, but just a simple wired one will do the trick).

I say all this then have to tell you that all I did yesterday was shoot handheld: camera, lens, that’s it.  While I normally do carry a tripod with me,  I wasn’t really planning on shooting the fireworks yesterday.  The plan was to be home pretty early, but time can run away from you when you’re having a bit of fun!

Have a magical night!

July 4th (ok, 3rd and 4th) Fireworks


Finale from the Altamonte Springs Fireworks

The night didn’t start well

I love photographing fireworks.  They are fairly straightforward to shoot and hardly require any editing – providing you’ve had time to scout out your location, are in a good spot, and all your equipment is functioning properly.  None of which was true Wednesday night in Altamonte Springs.

I got to Altamonte fairly late due to traffic (about 10 minutes before the show was to start) and had the toughest time finding a parking spot. After finally finding a spot (a dark unlit area surrounded by trees I’m sure was from a Hitchcock movie), I decided to make up time by getting the camera on the tripod while I walked).  That worked out great for 17 seconds (give or take) when the sky opened up and every angel in heaven poured water down on Altamonte Springs.

Ok, I got wet, but I had an umbrella and someone lent me a hand as I put the rain cover on my bag.  After I got situated, I ran out in the rain to find a place plant the tripod and setup.  The rain was really a blessing: the fireworks were  now delayed and I had time to try to find a place to park my tripod.

I decided to go up high on the amphitheater behind the crowd.  The spot was decent: high up  and roughly centered to the middle of the lake.   To my left was a palm tree, to my right was an arch.  I thought perhaps I can incorporate the palm tree into my photos as I like to have elements in the foreground.  I got the tripod down, hooked up the wireless remote and tried to fire an exposure…nothing…another attempt: nothing.  It worked sporadically, but not reliably (1 out of 20 attempts).  Great: wireless is out, but I was able to use it as a wired remote so no worries: not as convenient and a bit disconcerting, but ok.

And then things got worse before they got better

I framed up, focused and waited.  It was another 30 minutes or so of people bumping into the tripod and saying sorry before the show started- it happens and you can’t get upset about that kind of thing.  It’s tough for folks to see a tripod especially at night with a lot of people.  If you get mad, it’s because you’re impatient.

After several good jostles the show started and….the fireworks were just behind the palm tree!  Sigh..  Now it’s a mad scramble to move the camera, reframe and refocus.  I ended up moving twice during the show, but things worked out. Here are a few shots from the night.  You can see more of them at the end of the post.

Altamonte Springs Fireworks

One of my favorite bursts from the night at Red, Hot & Boom


I love the red-green christmas colors here

After the show, I managed to forget where my car parked (arrgh), but I found it eventually (I’m so glad I had a flashlight as it was no fun navigating around in the dark).  All’s well that ends well eh?  It’s tough to have shoots like this.  But, I got the shots and that’s what I went there for.  No one sees any of my troubles in the images.

Then Came Winter Garden

Altamonte was July 3rd.  July 4th was in Winter Garden and that night was awesome! I got there a bit earlier and had the perfect spot.  I didn’t have to worry about the remote because I knew it was dead and, I didn’t have to worry about parking as I got dropped-off.

Plus, I ran into some good friends, it was just awesome awesome.  Here are a few shots from that night:

Bouquet burst from Winter Garden's Fireworks at Lake Apopka

Bouquet burst from Winter Garden’s Fireworks at Lake Apopka

I call this one "The Flag Burst" because of the Red White & Blue

I call this one “The Flag Burst” because of the Red White & Blue

I laughed my way through this show (some would say giggle, but no.  I laughed heartily and manly like).  It was just awesome getting shot-after-useable-shot this night without having to scramble to a different spot and reframe.

Below are the rest of the shots form the two nights.  Hope you had a great 4th of July!


Epcot’s Illuminations, Japan

Epcot Fireworks Illuminations

Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks display as seen from the Japan Pavilion at the World Showcase.  I was shooting very long exposures this night (30″+) and was only able to get a few images because of the duration.  I didn’t get a lot of images, but I do like what I captured.

It was also a fun shoot.  I locked up focus and composition an hour or so before the show, ate some sushi, chatted with some friends and waited for the fireworks to start.  I love the music that accompanies the show.

Magic Kingdom Fireworks from Fantasyland

Disney World Fireworks from Fantasyland

Another shot from the photowalk friday night.  This was definitely a different perspective for me.  I’m really looking forward to the Fantasyland expansion being completed.  Shooting the fireworks from the new locations is going to be first on my list as most of the show you see here was actually behind where I was setup.

Photographing Fireworks Tutorial

Fireworks can be very frustrating to shoot especially if you’re trying to photograph them using full auto mode on your camera. If you’ve ever done so you’ve either ended up with blurry, shaky photos, or photos in which your flash fired for no good reason.

In this guide, I’ll share step-by-step tips that will help you nail fireworks every time.

What you’ll need

  1. A good tripod.  There’s just no way around it, a good solid tripod will give you the stability you’ll need to for shooting the long exposure shots necessary to capture good firework photos. I used the Induro AT-213 with the Manfrotto 498Rc2 Head
  2. Cable release/remote.  You can make do without this and use a delay timer in your camera, but your shots will be hit-or-miss.  So get a remote in order to capture the moment.  I use the Vello Wireless Sutterboss (there’s a Nikon version too).  It’s pretty pricy, but it does a good job.
  3. Watch/digital timer.  This is not an absolute necessity, but you’ll want to use something to get the correct shutter speed.  My cable release has a timer so that solves the problem for me.  You can also just set a predetermined exposure time.

Got it all? Wonderful, let’s get working.

Know your location.  You can’t capture good images unless you know where the fireworks will be.  In the shot above, I scouted the location early in the morning, tried different vantage points and lenses before deciding to finally on where place my tripod.  There is no substitute for this step.  Scout early, setup early.

You will need a solid tripod, that’s obvious.  Be aware though, just because your tripod is stable doesn’t mean it’ll remain that way – especially if you’re in a crowd.  Know where your tripod legs are and try to stand behind one of them.  If you can, have friends at each of the other legs to prevent the crowd from bumping your tripod and ruining your shot.

Embrace Manual
Don’t be afraid of the big bad “M” on your dial.  It seems scary but, it gives you full control.  What you are aiming for is long exposures, this means small apertures and long shutter speeds coupled with low ISO.   So set your dial to “M” and get ready.  Your camera will not make the right decisions when shooting fireworks, it just doesn’t know what it’s looking at.  Take control, you’ll be happy you did.

Somewhere between f/8 to f/16 is where you want to be.  There’s no “rule”, ambient light will play a role so use your judgement keeping in mind that you’re looking for an exposure between 8-30 seconds. (try f/8 for 11 seconds to start and adjust down from there).

Stay under 400 and save yourself from noise.  You’re already going to have noise because of the long exposure so 100-200 will do (100 is better).

Again, you’re looking for a long exposure.   You’ll be setting your shutter speed to bulb, but not yet.  First, set your shutter manually keeping in mind how much ambient light/surroundings you want in your shot.  In the case with the shot above, I wanted to be sure I had the castle well illuminated and a shutter speed of about 10sec or so.  Then, I set my shutter and played with my ISO and Aperture.

Now, remember you’ll want to use the cable release/remote and bulb.  So take a few test shots and check your image.  Note the shutter speed you used as you’ll want to use it during the show.  Once you know what speed you want to be at, set your shutter to bulb and set your watch/digital timer.  More on this later.

Focus is going to be difficult – especially if you’re just looking at empty sky.  If you have something in the foreground to focus on that’s great.   Just focus then be sure to turn off autofocus once your focus is locked in.  Turning off autofocus is critical (I use back-button focus so my camera never focuses when the shutter button is depressed.  If you don’t want to dive into the world of back-button AF, just turn off our autofocus);  if you don’t do this, your lens will hunt trying to lock in focus and you’ll probably end up missing the shot or getting a best guess from the lens and ending up with a blurry photo.

If you don’t have something in the foreground then you’re off to focusing manually.  Do the best you can and make sure your autofocus is off.  Make no mistake: focus at night is tricky and there are no rules to save you.  You’re just going to have to get good at it with experience.  Sometimes focusing on a person in the crowd in the middle of your scene can help; that’s a good trick and it can help you.

Turn it off, you don’t need it if you’re just trying to capture fireworks.

Ok, whew.  So far so good, now it gets fun.

White Balance
User your discretion but manually choose your white balance.  Tungsten is a good choice, but it depends on the temperature of the ambient light you have and the look you are going for.  Stay away from auto white balance as it’ll just cause havoc with your shot-to-shot consistency.  Ah, the joys of manual heh.

Mirror Lockup
Turn it on to make sure your mirror does not cause vibrations as it is moving out of the way for the shutter to open.  Another alternative is to just use LiveView as that locks up your mirror.  You can then just look at your LCD to see the scene.

Long exposure noise reduction
Personally, I like using it, but I may be in the minority here.  What is it?  Basically, after your image is captured, your camera will close the shutter and capture an additional image at the same shutter speed.  The second image will contain noise that is subtracted from the original image you captured.  The result: nice clean images.  The downside: a 10 sec exposure becomes a 20sec exposure and you’re missing a lot of your fireworks show.

Do you want to use it?  It’s up to you.  If you have good noise reduction software, then turn it off and experiment and see how it goes.  If not, turn it on and sacrifice part of your show.  This, again, is your decision.

Tripod Part 2
If you’re not above everyone’s heads, think about extending your center column keeping in mind you’re losing stability.   All your other settings are locked in now, so this is a good time to do this if you deem it necessary.

Finally, let’s Shoot!
Ok, so now you’re ready to go.  Experiment with shutter speeds.  You know what shutter speed will correctly expose for your ambient light, but you’re shooting bulb so you can try different shutter speeds.  From here you’re just going to have to experiment but keep the following in mind:

1) Try to get the moment just before the fireworks explode
2) Some portions of the show will be brighter than others, so adjust your shutter speed accordingly.  This is especially true during the finale.  Remember, you’re on bulb so you get to open and close the shutter.
3) Use your timer/watch.  You can guess and just open/close the shutter manually but you won’t be as accurate.

Well, there you go.  The steps above should get you well on your way to shooting good solid fireworks images.  Drop me a comment if you have questions or with links to images you captured.  I’d love to see what you come up with.


Disney Fireworks in Black and White

The last of the fireworks photos from Disney’s 40th Anniversary.  I have a couple more shots from the night but this is the last of the fireworks I plan on posting.

This is a single raw B&W HDR by the way.

Another one from Disney’s 40th Anniversary Fireworks

I have a couple more from this night.  Tomorrow’s will be a black and white fireworks HDR that I like.  I also plan on posting the video from the Photographer’s Weekly Hangout on Monday so look for that.



Disney World 40th Anniversary Fireworks

I normally never post this late, but today is the Special 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World. I have a couple more shots from the fireworks and other happenings during the night.

Wil post more in the coming day or so, but enjoy this one for now!


Today’s Photo: A shot from Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks show on 9/15.
This was shot at f/13, 6seconds on a 2sec timer and long exposure noise reduction on.  Very little, if anything, was done in post on this.

 I couldn’t mess with the camera much as I was holding my 6 month old son so he could enjoy the show, too!  Overall, though, I think it worked out. More to come with fireworks. I’m just starting to experiment.