A Note from Scott: For the next few weeks, I will be duplicating my posts from the AllEars.net 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. AllEars.net 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.
In this next one, I did want the streamers off to the side with a batch of explosions directly over Cinderella Castle.
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.
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!