Photographing Fireworks – Part 1

Photographic Innoventions by Scott Thomas

How to take amazing fireworks photos at Disney | AllEars.net | AllEars.net
How to take amazing fireworks photos at Disney | AllEars.net | AllEars.net

How to take amazing fireworks photos at Disney | AllEars.net | AllEars.net

Before I left for Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago, I asked if there was anything you would like me to cover. I got an inquiry about how to photograph the firework shows at the Magic Kingdom. As luck would have it, I saw two different ones: HalloWishes (which I’ll cover this week) and Wishes (I will talk about next week).

First, Barrie wrote an excellent fireworks blog featuring IllumiNations and you should read it now or after this blog. At the time, she was using a Point and Shoot camera. Since I use a digital SLR camera, my approach is a bit different. Both ways give excellent results.

Some things are needed for either approach: a tripod and a way to remotely trip the shutter. That can be done by using your camera’s built in timer (set it for 2 seconds), a remote or cable shutter release. Using any of those methods will reduce the amount of camera shake to almost nil when used with a tripod to get the sharpest images possible.

Next, I set my camera’s ISO to its lowest setting. As I use a Nikon, I set it to ISO 200 (see your camera’s manual for its lowest setting). This will give the cleanest images with little to no digital noise. Make sure Auto ISO is turned OFF if your camera has it.

Next, I put the camera in manual mode by selecting the M exposure setting. I like to shoot fireworks with a foreground subject like Cinderella Castle at an aperture of f/16. This ensures I get the castle, crowd in front of the castle and the fireworks in focus. Since the castle is well lighted, I use auto focus to set the focus right on the castle and then put the lens on its manual focus setting. As long as I do not touch the lens’ focus ring, the focus will stay put. Lastly, I set the shutter speed to Bulb as I want to control when the shutter opens and closes using a cable shutter release.

I am sure you are asking yourself how do I know when to open and close the shutter. For a town or city fireworks display, I would use this method to open the shutter at the sound of a rocket launch and hold it open for two, three or more explosions before closing the shutter. For shows at a Disney park, it takes a little more effort as they are longer, have a lot more explosions in the air at one time, are choreographed to music and launched from a distance by air cannons. In the last couple of years, I have used youTube to help me learn when best to open and close the shutter for these shows. AllEars.net has its own youTube channel with all the firework shows including HalloWishes. By watching the HalloWishes video a few times, I had a good idea when to take the photos.

Not that I was perfect. In the photo below, I left the shutter open a bit too long and got the streamers. Though not bad, I really wanted only the colorful fireworks without those streamers.

When using Bulb, you get some strange looking shutter speeds like this one at 7.3 seconds.

HalloWishes fireworks show during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
HalloWishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom at 7.3 seconds.
Nikon D700/28-300VR, 7.3s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length

In this next one, I did want the streamers off to the side with a batch of explosions directly over Cinderella Castle.

HalloWishes fireworks show during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
HalloWishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom at 5.5 seconds.
Nikon D700/28-300VR, 5.5s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length

The last one is the first part of the finale of HalloWishes. Disney likes to use very bright explosions during finales. I knew they were coming so I closed the shutter before they happened. The ones which had already gone off were bright enough to illuminate the crowd which adds to the photo.

HalloWishes fireworks show during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
HalloWishes finale with the onlooking guests at the Magic Kingdom at 6.5 seconds.
Nikon D700/28-300VR, 6.5s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length

Next week I will show you how to extend the shutter time even longer to capture more firework bursts and turn a mild mannered ride into a run-a-way!

Click here to learn more about Fireworks Photography in Part II,

If you have any questions or comments, please, hit the Comment link below. Thanks!

disney world fireworks photos

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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3 Replies to “Photographing Fireworks – Part 1”

  1. Great shots Scott! I see that your D700 is serving you well. I am leaving for DW the Saturday after Thanksgiving and was hoping you might be able to answer a few questions for me. This will be the first time that I will be taking a DSLR, lenses, and tripod. Do you still recommend storing your tripod until it’s fireworks time or are you carrying it all day? What do you do with all of your equipment when you are on the rides? I purchased a .9 ND filter that I was able to use during the 4th of July, but I notice that most of the people that do great fireworks shots on Flickr use a .6, what do you use? Thanks for any help. Harry

    Scott repliesa: Hi, Harry! My latest post will answer your questions about the ND filter. Yes, I still recommend getting a locker for storing a tripod during the day and retireiving it about an hour before you will start using it.

  2. Excellent!! Thanks a lot Scott. I did use my tripod and remote for Wishes but I set my ISO to something way to high (probably around 1000) and was using Aperture Priority with nothing nearly that closed down. The results are way, way, way too much noise and far too much RAW processing to get the exposure back to something acceptable. I appreciate the help. I’m bookmarking this one and looking forward to part 2!!

    Scott replies: Josh, these tips are for photographing within the Magic Kingdom. If you are outside the park, like at the Polynesian Resort beach, I would open up the aperture a little bit to something like f/8 or f/11.

  3. Thank you for this article – my fiance just got an SLR camera for our next trip to WDW.. Hoping to get some good fireworks photos! 🙂

    Scott replies: Let us know how it goes!