Photographing a Disney Fireworks Show

A Note from Scott: For the next few weeks, I will be duplicating my posts from the Picture This! photoblog.  While the subjects are Walt Disney World specific, I feel they contain valuable information for photographers in general.

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, my blogmate at Picture This!, 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.

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. has its own youTube channel with all the firework shows including HalloWishes, Disney’s Halloween version of Wishes. 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 at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida.

HalloWishes 1. Nikon D700/28-300VR, 7.3s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length, tripod.

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 at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida.

HalloWishes 2. Nikon D700/28-300VR, 5.5s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length, tripod.

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 at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida.

HalloWishes 3. Nikon D700/28-300VR, 6.5s, f/16, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm focal length, tripod.

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!

This entry was posted in Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Photographing a Disney Fireworks Show

  1. Carsten says:

    They are very good Scott.
    Thank you for the instructions which are easily understandable. The fireworks are beautifully composed – as are your images.


  2. The last one is my favorite, even with the bright sky and all the smoke from the fireworks. Love that you can see the people so well, and the golden color of the castle.


  3. Gerry says:

    I really liked the finale with the illuminated crowd. Lots to think about.


  4. milkayphoto says:

    VERY well explained Scott! Your efforts paid off in spades as these are all very beautiful shots!


  5. burstmode says:

    Beautiful photos, Scott. You must have used the fireworks setting on your camera!!!!!


  6. Those are amazing shots. I’ll have to remember these tips during New Year’s


  7. Scott I never even thought of photographing the fireworks when I was in the city for Halloween. I just assumed it would be too hard. I am now intrigue to give it a try. I have have both a tripod and a cable shutter. Great photographs. Very inspiring.


  8. montucky says:

    Great photos, Scott! The settings will be helpful for me and they are appreciated.


  9. Mike Criss says:

    Fantastic photos and advice Scott.


  10. Nye says:

    Scott, great photos. The tip about the “auto focus to set the focus right on the castle and then put the lens on its manual focus setting” is new to me.I have to give this a try the next time since leaving it on the auto focus it will try to focus at each shot and that’s the problem that I was having, and tying manual focus from a distance is hard to get a sharp image sometimes.


    • That auto focus tip only works if you have something bright enough to focus on. The castle is well lit up to and during the firework shows. When I have done this round here, I have found even a street light to be a big help. If you use apertures around f/11, f/16, f/22, the focus will more than likely cover the area of the fireworks.


  11. Karma says:

    Gorgeous! I love these shots and long to return to Disney with each of your posts. I don’t expect to see any fireworks before next Independence Day, however, so I won’t be able to try your techniques any time soon. 😦


  12. truels says:

    Very impressive fireworks they do at Disney. It has been conjured into some stunning photos – not least thanks to the talented photographer – beautiful!


  13. cindydyer says:

    As always, great shots, Scott! Makes me want to head to Disney.


  14. Pingback: Pixelmania 2011: A Disney Fan Photo Event | Views Infinitum

  15. Pingback: First Fireworks Try with the Rebel « Karma's When I Feel Like It Blog

  16. Pingback: First Time Fireworks « My Life in CNY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s