Disney Photography Tips: Wishes
We are introducing a new feature to the site leading up to Photo Magic 2013 that we think everyone will enjoy. The idea is to take one photo subject at Disney and have each of us explain our approach to shooting it. We are starting with photos that will most likely be done during Photo Magic, but we plan on continuing this after the event and covering more shots from around the resort.
To get things started, we are starting with one of the more popular questions we get on the blog…Wishes! People always want to know how we photograph the fireworks, recommendations for locations and the correct settings to use. Today we will each take a few minutes to explain our own approach to photographing the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.
If you have any questions or comments, be sure to let us know in the comments.
As a WDW local now, my perspective on fireworks has changed dramatically. I used to obsess over nailing fireworks photos, but now I try my best when the mood strikes me. Aside from the typical rules that go along with shooting fireworks of tripod, bulb mode, possibly ND filter, there are a few things that I always try to do.
I always look for symmetry in the bursts. Nothing bothers me more than when I stop the shutter in the middle of a sequence and only get half of it. It just totally throws off the balance and lands right in the trash bin on my computer. One way that you can really get a hold of these sequences is YouTube. All of the different MK fireworks shows are on there in glorious HD and are great resources that will help set you up for success.
One thing on the camera that I try to do is keep my aperture at a reasonable number. I have noticed that with the lenses I shoot fireworks with the most, once I get up to apertures like f/18 and f/22 that I start to see what is called diffraction in the photos. Simply put, diffraction is a loss of sharpness from having too narrow of an aperture. That said, I might be a little different from everyone else, but I try not to go above f/13 or f/14 while shooting fireworks. A great way to get around having to go that high is having a strong ND filter.
Once on the computer, having the newest version of Camera Raw is essential. With the control you have on highlights and shadows there, it makes it so much easier than it used to be to edit a fireworks photo. That said, going too far defeats the purpose, because fireworks are essentially just giant lights in the sky. Taming them too much wouldn’t make much sense. That’s all I’ve got. Good luck!
When it comes to shooting Wishes!, I generally stick with locations from where the show was intended to be seen. Therefore, I rarely venture away from Main Street or the hub. I will choose to set up either in the hub in front of Partners, or further back where Main Street meets the hub, or in front of Crystal Palace depending on crowd levels and how much time I have to set up before the show. The area in front of Crystal Palace is relatively small and requires camping out a bit longer than the other locations. On days not dedicated to spending time at Magic Kingdom, I might rush over to the Transportation and Ticket Center and photograph the show from the boat dock. This is a great location that really displays the huge scale of the fireworks over Cinderella Castle.
To shoot the fireworks properly, a tripod is a must. In addition a remote shutter release, cable or wireless, is preferred to avoid and camera shake during long exposures using Bulb mode. I often use a 3-stop neutral density filter to get longer exposures but a neutral density filter is not required. Before the show starts I compose my frame based on where I think the bursts will appear. I’ll often have to change this once the show starts, but I want to get as close as possible before the shot starts. I also want to set focus before the show starts so I switch the lens to manual focus and using Live View I will focus on the foreground, usually Cinderella Castle. Once I set focus I will fire off a few test shots. I shoot fireworks in Bulb mode so the shutter remains open as long as I am holding the shutter button down. Again, a remote shutter release is preferred.
The best advice I can give for shooting any fireworks show is to become familiar with a show before you try photographing it. There are specific show scenes that photograph well and knowing the cues before each scene helps a lot. Knowing the portions of the show I want to capture, before a scene begins I open the shutter and will try to leave the shutter open until the end of the sequence. It’s important to start the exposure before the bursts are launched, otherwise the bursts will look broken or detached. So I look for brief lulls between sequences to start my exposure.
Now for settings. Generally a small aperture is preferred, especially if a neutral density filter is not being used. I’ll set the camera in Bulb mode, set ISO to 100 and choose an aperture of f/16-f/18. My exposures will depend on the sequence I’m capturing, but are generally 20-40 seconds in length. For the brighter portions of the show such as the finale I will stop down even further, to f/22 or smaller if possible and keep exposure times down because the finale is incredibly bright and easy to blow out.
Again, for me the most important thing is knowing the show. I base exposure times on the time of the sequence I’m trying to capture and not so much on “proper” exposure. Adjustments can be made in post if the shot is under or over exposed (within reason). I focus heavily on the pattern of the fireworks and how they fill the frame, and that is why I base my exposure length on the cues from the show.
To be honest, I tend to refrain from shooting Wishes. It is one of those special, rare, Disney moments where I put my lens down and just enjoy the show. At least for the first 10 seconds or so…
Inevitably, as soon as that first volley of color explodes in the sky my hand reaches for my camera and I find myself struggling to catch up, and capture the magic. Though planning your shots and staking out a prime vantage point is preferable, I’m not totally out of luck with my impromptu-shooting.
To keep from completely fumbling through Wishes I keep a custom setting configured specifically for fireworks. This assures I have a good base of settings that I can easily call up to start shooting immediately without having to take the time to configure my camera on the fly.
Since I rarely intend to shoot Wishes, I’m usually not in the best location while the show is unfolding. In these situations I don’t fret, I just look around for ways to make my perspective work. If I don’t have a good shot of the castle and bursts, I’ll look lower to the sea of guests in front of me for anything of interestingness. Often looking behind you, away from the action, can yield striking compositions.
Watching a crowd of guests change color with each explosion can be mesmerizing. As well as seeing the energy an endless display of raised LCD screen can conveys. My point being, you don’t have to be shooting fireworks to shoot the show. Preparation pays off, but spontaneity can create surprises too.
However you tackle wishes be sure to have fun, and don’t forget to snap a few often overlooked mental photos along the way. It’s spectacles like Wishes that keep us coming back after all.
When it comes to photographing fireworks at Disney, I probably take a different approach than others. We all know how great a photo of Wishes from the middle of Main Street looks, and chances are we have all taken one before, it is almost a rite of passage in Disney photography. I enjoy viewing other peoples photos from those spots, but when I am shooting the show I prefer to find other locations from around the park to setup. It has gotten to the point where I am now trying to think of locations that have not been done before, which means that I don’t even know if it will work until the show starts.
Chances are, these unique spots will only give you a few keepers for each show, as opposed to Main Street where you will end up with a dozen (or more) quality shots. That is something important to keep in mind, especially if you are hoping to have lots of firework photos to post online.
One tip I will give you is to plan on moving around during the show. The beauty of these locations it that you will have lots of room around you, so you are free to adjust as needed while the show is going on. I actually try to take a few shots from one spot and then move to a nearby location to photograph the second half of the show. Another reason I find I have to move quickly is when the shot just doesn’t work as planned and you need to adjust quickly by finding a new location. This has only happened to me a few times, and normally you can just move around the area you are in to find a different spot.
As you probably have guessed, you are not setup for prime viewing of the show when doing this, so if you are hoping to photograph and experience the show how it was meant to be seen, then this probably will not work for you. I have been lucky to have seen Wishes many times, so now I find I enjoy doing this more than standing on a crowded Main Street to watch it.
I will leave you with some locations that I have photographed Wishes from in the Magic Kingdom to give you some ideas: Mad Tea Party, New Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Rivers of America, the bridge leading to Liberty Square, and most recently I shot Wishes from outside the front gates to the Magic Kingdom.
For more on photographing fireworks from different locations around the park, read an article that Katie Marino wrote for us earlier this year. Disney World Fireworks: Off the Beaten Path