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Capturing Beautiful Disney Fireworks Photos

Once upon a time, I knew nothing about photography.  I figured the job of a camera was to capture what was in front of me, exactly as I saw it.  Do you remember the days of film and that exciting moment you picked up your developed pictures, ready to relive your vacation memories?  If you are anything like me, those pictures came with a few ounces of disappointment when the entire roll you had dedicated to fireworks contained nothing but blurry castles and squiggly lines in the sky.  Fast forward to today: the age of digital , we immediately see our results.  Each time I visit WDW I see guests all around me confused and disappointed that their pictures don't look like postcards.  I've put together a few tips to help capture great fireworks shots on your next vacation!


Step One: Location, location, location.




If you have never seen Wishes at the Magic Kingdom before, I recommend you watch from Main Street near the bakery.  From there it is a symmetrical show with Cinderella's castle at the center.   This is a very popular spot and you should secure your position early.   If you don't stand in the center, anywhere in front of the castle will still provide a great view, with a slightly different perspective.   You may find it a little less crowded on the Tomorrowland bridge, near the rose garden, by the Crystal Palace, or anywhere else slightly off-center.  Watching from Fantasyland is great too, but since most of the fireworks come from beyond the park, the focus won't be on the castle.   At Christmas time, I have enjoyed Wishes from the train station behind the Christmas tree.  You won't see the castle but will be rewarded with unique, beautiful pictures!   Outside of the park, the beach at Polynesian is a prime spot- they even pipe in the soundtrack.


At Epcot, you will have an easier time choosing a spot: find somewhere along the lagoon.    That's it!   There are plenty of opportunities to capture great pictures of Illuminations throughout the World Showcase, just watch out for trees.   Find a spot with a clear view of the center of the lagoon, and enjoy!







Step Two: Use a tripod.
 
If you want long, smooth flowing trails of light, you need to keep the camera steady.   I have a very lightweight inexpensive tripod that fits in a backpack and is easy to pull out and set up.   If you don't use a tripod, hold very still and don't breathe!   I have taken decent pictures without a tripod before, but you will want to limit the shutter speed to 1-2 seconds.





 
Step Three: Settings.
 


You don't necessarily need the fanciest new DSLR to take fireworks pictures.   Many basic point-and-shoot cameras today come with the ability to manually control focus and exposure.   If yours doesn't, it probably has a "fireworks mode" that you can try.

  • Start out by making sure your flash is off, ISO is low (100), and manual focus is set to "infinity".   If you don't have this option, then focus on something far away (like the castle) and lock it.

  • Then choose a small aperture, such as f/16 (the larger the number, the smaller the aperture).   This will allow you to choose longer shutter speeds.   You will want at least 2-3 seconds to capture an entire fireworks burst, although I like to take much longer shots (most of my pictures are f/22 and 30 seconds or more).

  • Finally, release the shutter.   I like to set my camera to bulb mode, which allows me to use a remote and keep the shutter open as long as I like.   This is a great way to choose exactly when you want your image to begin and end.   An easy alternative is to choose a shutter speed between 2 and 30 seconds, and use the self timer.   If you simply press the shutter without the timer, you risk shaking the camera and ruining all your hard work and preparation.


Step Four: Enjoy!
Be sure to take some time away from the camera as well, as beautiful as pictures are, nothing compares to the actual experience of being there.   That's why we keep going back!


If you have any Disney vacation pictures you would like to share, we would love to see them on our Facebook page!


Carissa

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