Rss

Best of the Tetons

Photographing Fireworks : Tips and Suggestions.

4th of July in JH — Plenty of Events and Festivities For All!

This page is intended to supply readers with enough information to get your Independence Day feet wet and hopefully capture a few nice shots. Even if you are back at your home town on the 4th, you’ll probably have fireworks displays nearby. There is some JH specific information here, but hopefully some of the information on this page will help you wherever you will be this Independence Day!

4th of July is the most obvious time to photograph fireworks in Jackson Hole, but we also have fireworks shows on New Years Eve and during the Teton County Fair. Fireworks can also be seen and photographed at Teton Village (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort). This year, another large fireworks show is scheduled for Saturday, June 28th in Driggs, ID…just over the pass. Here’s a related story for that event: Fireworks.

Below are a few suggestions for photographing fireworks.

4thJulyFireworks1_July4

Taken from the observation platform along Flat Creek: 5 seconds and F/4.5

Tripod and Shutter Release: Most shots will require an exposure time much longer than a human can normally hand hold. As a result, a tripod is almost a must. Remember, it doesn’t take much of a shake or movement to blur an image, so the sturdier the tripod the better. However, even the cheapest one will be better than no tripod. I also recommend some sort of remote shutter release. Check out an RFN-4 (RF-902) Wireless & Cable Shutter Release if you need a recommendation. For some cameras, you can also use a Cam-Ranger to trigger your camera from the comfort of your lawn chair and view the shots on your iPad, iPhone or Android device. (Sign up to follow this blog to have a chance to win a new Cam-Ranger).

Camera and Lenses: Most DSLR cameras will be plenty capable of capturing fireworks images. My first DSLR was a Nikon D70 and it did a good job. Most current cameras are much more capable than it was. This year, I will try out Nikon’s COOLPIX P7800 hybrid Point and Shoot along with my normal pro bodies. I’ll probably be using a D800. Lens choice will likely depend on how close you are to the action. At the base of Snow King, you’ll probably want some sort of wide angle lens at least for some of your images. If you shoot from any of the distant locations, a mid-range telephoto should work, and there is no reason a telephoto can’t be used to capture tight areas of the explosions.

4thJulyFireworks2_July4

Do Some Homework: I wouldn’t suggest picking up a new camera and expecting to get great shots right out of the box unless you are already a seasoned pro. More than likely, you will be shooting at ISO 100 or the base ISO of your camera, so be prepared to change it. More than likely, you will be taking photos in Manual Mode. Your camera will not be able to auto focus well at night, so you will need to have your lenses pre-focused  and set to manual focus at about the distance you expect the fireworks to explode. In the daytime, that’s easy. Simply focus on something at the correct distance, take a test shot, then immediately put the camera’s focusing mode into Manual Mode. Darkness and the “heat of battle” will amplify all issues and challenges. In other words, you need to already know quite a bit about your camera and where the menus are in your camera before you set up. I find it worthwhile to check my focusing distances in the daytime and make mental notes of the settings. For example, most lenses have an “infinity” icon on them, but critical focus on each lens will vary slightly over the infinity mark on the lens. You might want to bring a small pen light to be able to see these kinds of external adjustments.

Get There Early: You might want to scout a few shooting locations earlier in the day. The best spots will likely be occupied if you walk up just before the first firework. Also remember, parking will start filling in early so plan on walking farther if you wait too long. People stake out blankets in the grass of the Snow King ball field well before the event. Food and drinks are usually available and there will be music playing. This is always a fun experience even if you don’t carry a camera.

You’ll probably want to create a visual “frame” in your mind’s eye as you look through your camera’s viewfinder. Make sure to give the shot enough “space” or elbow room. For a first timer, it might be difficult to estimate how high the actual fireworks will travel into the sky before they explode. Again, these are issues related to how close you are to them. The vertical images on this page might help give you some idea of the heights.

Web_Fireworks2006

2006 image taken with a Nikon D200

Exposures and Capturing the Explosions: I mentioned a tripod earlier. Be sure to set it up on solid ground and not on something that can jiggle or shake if someone walks by—like a wooden boardwalk. The fireworks usually start right on time, so as the time nears, do a few test shots to check the exposures. Remember, you will probably be shooting with a digital camera, so it shouldn’t cost you anything to take lots of images. Just make sure you have plenty of room on your card, or cards, and start with a fully charged battery.  For starters, set the ISO to the base of either ISO 100 or ISO200. The fireworks will actually be bright in the scene, so you shouldn’t need to get radical and bump it up to ISO2500 or anything near that high. Set the camera to Manual Mode and then set the Aperture to around F/8 for starters. The last of the three main variables in a Manual Mode image is the Shutter Speed. Start with a couple of seconds on the first group and adjust from there. The distance you are from the display will affect how powerful the explosion will be and how much it will affect the exposure. An exposure time of 3-5 seconds will usually allow for the capture of several aerial explosions. You can try it, but exposing for an extremely long time has never worked for me. After seeing the first few sets of fireworks, it should be possible to time the exposures to match up with many of the explosions. Remember, shoot a lot and keep the good ones! Lastly, shoot a few images, then check a few images. If you know how to review your histograms, do it occasionally. The first few minutes of the show will start with at least some ambient light, but conditions change rapidly that might require some changes to the settings.

Web_HuntsmanWind_June28

6 Seconds: F/5: ISO 100

Weather and Wind: These two variables are difficult to control.  We’ve had torrential rainfalls, causing the event to be cancelled and rescheduled for the 5th of July. We’ve had snow on the 4th of July at least once since we’ve lived here. Most of the events have been pleasantly warm and wonderful, but you still need to plan ahead just in case. Wind can be an issue, but nothing like a big rain or snow storm. Occasionally, wind can enhance a shot as seen above. At the JH Fireworks event, smoke during the finale can linger or even blow towards the audience and obscure some of the explosions. Also, as the smoke builds and is lit by additional fireworks, I find it necessary to adjust the aperture “on the fly”. And, by mid-summer, I’d suggest bringing some insect repellant, just in case.

Web_4thJulySK_2014

1 second at F/5.6, ISO 250: Thankfully, the smoke was blowing from left to right for this image. This was towards the end with a lot of fireworks going off at the same time. I kept the aperture at the same I had originally been using, but quickly changed the shutter speed as the scene got brighter.

Locations in Jackson Hole: If it’s your first time to view the fireworks in Jackson Hole, I’d suggest going to the Snow King ball field. It is a great time with locals and tourists jumbled into one area. Music will be playing, kids will be throwing Frisbees and having a good time. You can buy a beer or soft drink and chow on some pizza. There are a few locations along the south fence where you can set up a tripod with a fair degree of safety and no one should be able to set up in front of you. Near the end of the fireworks show, the Jaycees usually light up a ground show, visible only to people at Snow King. Check out the JH Parking Garage on Millward Street as another option. You can go to the top of the garage and photograph from there. I’ve seen photos in the newspaper taken from one of the hairpin turns on Saddle Butte, however, it is a private drive and there is usually someone stationed at the base to keep non-residents out. I’ve thought about setting up near the old Miller House on Miller Butte. I had good luck at the observation deck along Flat Creek, but it is subject to people walking around and kids playing. I’ve never done it, but I’d consider hiking up the mountain and shooting through the fireworks and towards town. Normally, the Snow King Chair Lift runs during the summer. It would be possible to ride it to the top during the day time hours and wait for the show, but I do not know if the chairlift runs during the display. You simply have to work harder than most for some shots! Also, remember a fireworks show is held on the 4th at Teton Village along with free concerts in the commons.

Include Humans: I don’t do this enough! There is a playground off to the side of the ball field at Snow King and there are plenty of people watching the display. Occasionally, I like to include them in the shot. Sometimes the light from the fireworks will actually light the crowd or silhouette the kids on the monkey bars. A newspaper photographer would do this by instincts, but I have to work on it. Worth mentioning if you are equally inclined. I am more inclined to watch for those opportunities since starting Best of the Tetons.

Make a Day of It! The Jaycees Fireworks Display is actually the last event of a full day of events in Jackson Hole on the 4th of July. Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce: 4th of July Festivities. In town, the day starts with a Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser on the Town Square, followed by a 4th of July Parade at 10:00 am. Free concerts are presented by JacksonHoleLive! and Grand Teton Music Festival’s Music in the Hole. The 4th of July is one of the busiest weekends of the year, so you’ll need to book a room before making your way to Jackson Hole. The fireworks display is one of the better events in the region and worth the effort if you are close.

Web Torch Light Parade at Snow King 2014Text

Torch Light Parade on New Year’s Eve at Snow King Resort: A shot like this one takes a little more effort and pre-planning. I set up at the fence along Snow King Drive and “framed” the shot to allow for all the torch action plus where I had hoped the fireworks would explode. This image was layered and combined using around 6 images I captured that night. Once set up, I never touched the camera. I used an RFN-4 to trigger the shots.

Stacking Images:

You might hear people talk about stacking images.   Lately, the big buzz is in regards to taking a series of shots of the same subject, but stepping the focal plane back slightly after each shot. Later, in post processing, software analyzes the group of images and keeps the sharpest areas of each shot, then layers them into a single image. For fireworks, it is possible to stack multiple captures into a single image. Similarly, you might have an element in the foreground that will blow out on a four or five second exposure. To solve the problem, simply do a good exposure for the foreground object, such as a statue, then make exposure changes and capture the fireworks in one or more additinal images. Just don’t move the camera. In post production, you’d work on the layers of fireworks, then add back in just the statue from the first image using layer masks.

Web_Fireworks4_June28

Wind Blown Fireworks: I drove to Driggs, Idaho on Saturday, June 28th of this year for their big fireworks event. This is a single 5 second capture. With a stiff breeze, the fireworks took on a completely different appearance. My ISO was set at 100 and the shutter was set manually to 5 seconds at F/7.1.

Web_Fireworks1_June28

Pink and Lavender: Each set of fireworks lit the area and smoke differently.

Web_Fireworks7_June28

A few of the fireworks were absolutely “massive” and lit up the entire area.

Web_Fireworks3_June28

Single Shot: 2 seconds at F/4.5 and ISO still at 100. I wanted to speed up the shots on a few images, so I opened up the Aperture and cut down on the Shutter Speed using manual settings. There were times when I felt 4 or 5 seconds was too long of an exposure for the number of fireworks in the sky. I left the ISO at 100 for this entire show, so I made adjustments “on the fly” to the quicker shutter speeds and the varying amounts of fireworks.

Web_FireworksFinale_June28

The Huntsman Springs 2014 Finale:  Huntsman put on a top notch show! There were two “Jumbo Trons”—one on each side of the stage. At times, the fireworks stopped and the screens came on with inspirational or historical slides and inspirational voice overs—then the fireworks restarted with moving music being projected through the blasts. It was an amazing experience! Interestingly, I only saw three people there set up with tripods. I checked my images.  The first blast exploded at 10:15 pm and the last of the Finale was at 10:38 pm. That’s roughly 23 minutes of action, but it felt like 10!

Experimental Fireworks Photography

Web_Fireworks8_June28

Besides the “normal” shots, I wanted to try a few experiments. I added a Star Filter for a few shots as seen above and below.

Web_Fireworks6_June28

I shot for a while before I realized my star filter was almost horizontal and vertical. I would have preferred it to be at roughly a 45° angle. Still, it made some interesting effects.

Web_FireworksDetail1_June28

Fireworks Detail: I set up a Nikon D4 on a heavy tripod with a 200-400mm lens. At 200mm, I was “very tight”, but it yielded some interesting results. I only shot a few tight like this, then moved back to the wider lenses. After seeing a few of them back on the computer, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more. This one requires me to stay “on the camera” and compose a shot after an explosion because it is only capturing a small area of the night sky. Also, Looking back at my images, I’d be more likely to take a 70-200mm lens to save weight.

Web_Fireworks2_June28

As I mentioned in the earlier part of this post, I got there early and looked around. I originally thought the 70-200mm lens would be the lens of choice from the distance I set up. I had no idea how high they were going to shoot. After the first few fireworks, I switched to a 24-70mm lens and put it on my D800. I took two tripods, two bodies, and three lenses. The 200-400 was good for long shots of the stage, but I didn’t get to use it much on the actual fireworks.

Web_Fireworks5_June28

The “plan” was to do some experimental images as seen in the image below. For those images, I used a 70-200mm lens and “spun” the camera and lens via the lens collar during a long exposure. Since I ended up using the 24-70mm lens for most shots at Hunstman Springs, I wasn’t able to spin the body, but I did use the zoom feature on a few images as seen above.

Experimental Photography Preview:

Christmas Antlers Spun Dec15

Last December, I took some shots downtown at the antler arches  after they had been wrapped with LED Christmas lights. I added a four star filter to the front of the lens and then twisted the camera in the collar during the long exposure. For the shot above and below, I held still for a second or two to let the antlers “burn” into the image, then twisted the camera for the last couple of seconds. I was using a Nikon 70-200 mm lens which has collar when mounted on the tripod. It was easy to rotate the body and capture the streaks.

This year, I might try something similar for the fireworks. If so, I’d probably want to be set up at the base of Snow King to bring the explosions into the lens. I might even consider taking the 200-400mm lens for the same effects, however I don’t have a star filter for that lens. Besides spinning the body and lens, I can simply pan sideways or upwards during an exposure, or zoom during an exposure, or try twisting, turning and zooming at one time. Of course, the flares of the actual shell are also in motion. You get the idea! There could be lots of unexplored possibilities. As I think about it more, I’d probably take two tripods, two bodies and several lenses. I’d allow one to do the traditional shots and the other for the experimental images. See you there!

Christmas Spun Arch Dec15

(I posted these two Holiday Lights photos temporarily, but will replace them with actual fireworks images after the 4th.)

Other Fireworks Guides and Blogs:

750line

Please Help! If you like what you are seeing here, please click on the Social Media link/icons below and help me spread the word! People will be out photographing all over the country over the 4th. Maybe some of this information will help them! Also, I’d love to see more people make comments here on Best of the Tetons. If you have additional ideas or comments on this subject, please post them! Mike Jackson

Like This Post? Share It

Comments (6)

  1. Marion Dickinson

    Wow, those are fantastic shots, love the over the water images, but the elk antlers are my favorite.

  2. Lowell Schechter

    wonderful Fireworks images and great tips on how to take the best shots you can. We have been to Jackson hole and really enjoyed being at that Antler Arch.

  3. Hi Lowell, you have been quiet lately! Happy to see you posting and also happy to hear you enjoyed the post. MJ

  4. Marion, be sure to check back after the 4th. I hope to be close to the action again this year (Snow King Baseball Field). I heard tonight the ground show and finale will be big this year. Can’t wait! KJ

  5. Lowell Schechter

    Hi mike
    Yes, been a bit quiet on the computer lately but I am back on pretty regularly now. I enjoyed seeing you out there in the water having your photo taken using that camranger and seeing that timing is everything, you look quite the fisherman out there. Also, after reading your blog on shooting fireworks, a co-worker of mine came up to me and wanted to know how to shoot fireworks and I remembered a lot of what you talked about in your article and passed it on . I think I will be out there also trying my luck at shooting fireworks.

  6. Neihlee

    Mike, it was nice to finally meet you in Driggs this past weekend. Thanks for being approachable and willing to answer my questions! Your shots are fun and beautiful!
    Neihlee Muir

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *