Wishes – Photographing Fireworks

For the first post to my blog, I wanted to combine 3 of my favourite things. Photography, Disney and Fireworks. I have always enjoyed watching fireworks displays, and none are bigger or better (in my opinion) than the Wishes display every evening at Magic Kingdom in Florida.

After a long day enjoying the rides and attractions of the park, what better way to end the day than with a musical fireworks extravaganza and as a photographer, catching the colour and intensity of the show is both challenging and very rewarding.

The problem with long exposure photos like this, is that you only get a few chances to nail the shot as one exposure might last anywhere between 20 to 90 seconds, so during a 10 minute show, you may only get a handful of images to work with.

Some people like a picture with just one burst against a backdrop, others (me included) like the frame to be full of colour.

To get this shot required a few bits of equipment, namely a DSLR camera, a tripod, a shutter release cable and a ND100 filter. The tripod is essential as the shot was an 80 second exposure – impossible to hand hold and maintain a sharp image. The shutter release is used to control the time the shutter is open, and also reduces the chance of camera shake. Finally the ND filter is used to reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor, thus stopping highlights from getting blown out.

The best way I found to get the shot is to set up your camera on the tripod and turn off any image stabilisation on the lens. Frame up the shot before attaching the ND filter as it’s almost impossible to see anything once this is attached. I switched the lens to manual focus and set it to focus on infinity as I was quite some way from the castle. I also attached the shutter release cable at this point.

Once I was happy with the composition, I attached the ND filter to the lens. The camera settings I used for this shot were to select Bulb mode, so I could keep the shutter open as long as I wanted. I used a narrow aperture (f/20) and set the ISO to 100.

That was about it – now it is case of waiting for the right moment during the show to trip the shutter and then wait until I was happy to close the shot. For less intense fireworks where you may only keep the shutter open for 5 or 6 seconds, an ND filter is not necessary but I wanted a full on intense long exposure for this shot.

Wishes fireworks at Magic Kingdom

A little bit of post processing in Lightroom just to straighten up the image, bring up the vibrance and added just a touch of clarity, then reduced the shadows to make the black really dark which in turn makes the colours from the fireworks and castle really pop.

If you are planning to shoot fireworks, especially at Magic Kingdom, location is something you need to consider beforehand. Finding the best vantage point and getting there relatively early means you wont have a load of people directly in front of you.

Disney do everything so well, and the fireworks displays are just another example of that.

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