In years past I’ve attended 4th of July fireworks displays to enjoy purely for fun, but this year I decided to make my focus about photographing the event instead. For me, this makes a big difference in how I approach it. If I don’t make the effort to “Be a Photographer”, then I usually don’t take any pictures and find a way to justify being lazy. I was a bit nervous about getting a good spot (vantage point) to see the fireworks and really wanted to have a skyline shot as a backdrop for the fireworks.
So, I tried my best to research the event before going by trying to find out where they would be shooting off the fireworks and what was available to view them. I settled on viewing them from the “West St. Paul” bluffs which are actually just south of Downtown and have a GREAT skyline view of downtown St. Paul with the river snaking alongside in the foreground. It just happens that the “Taste of Minnesota” festival was going on in the Harriet Island Park with a ferris wheel, tents and lots of glittery lights.
I ended up choosing a spot on the Smith Bridge and arrived at 9:15pm. I knew I had to get there early to claim a decent spot before the masses arrived, and plenty of fellow photographers were already set up when I arrived. Before I went I did some research online on shooting fireworks since I had never really done them before. I used both a 17-40 wide angle lens and a 70-300 zoom for shooting, set up my tripod and used my cable release. I set my ISO to 200, f-16, and set the shutter speed to “Bulb”. Once the fireworks started I simple pressed the cable release and counted between 3-10 seconds for each shot. I looked at the back a few times to see that I was getting a decent exposure, but mostly I just continued to press the shutter repeatedly and crossed my fingers that I was getting good shots.
I found that I was able to visualize the final shot in my head and got into a rhythm while shooting. One other thing I did was set the fine focus before the fireworks began and turned off the automatic focus so that I wouldn’t keep refocusing on the sky or have to deal with the delay waiting for it to find something to focus on.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the shots I got considering they were my first attempt. It helped that I had someone with me to help “defend” my spot and to hand me lenses when I switched between the Wide angle and the Zoom. Thank you Shad for being a great assistant. I hope to catch the larger fireworks display in Minneapolis in late July at the Aquatennial festival. Wish me luck.