Disney Photography Tips: Wishes

By Adam Hansen on October 4th, 2013   |    Posted in:  Disney Photo Tips   |    10 Comments

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.

Cory Disbrow


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!

View more Disney photos from Cory on Flickr

Ryan Pastorino


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.

View more Disney photos from Ryan on Flickr

Alan Rappaport


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.

View more Disney photos from Alan on Flickr

Adam Hansen

Wishes from New Fantasyland

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

View more Disney photos from Adam on Flickr


  1. Tom Bricker   |   Oct 4, 2013

    I think it’s totally a YMMV thing, but I totally agree with Ryan’s sentiments: “When it comes to shooting Wishes!, I generally stick with locations from where the show was intended to be seen.”

    Some of the ‘off the beaten path’ locations are cool (New Fantasyland especially), but in some cases I just wonder “why?” Some scenes are in no way enhanced by fireworks overhead, and it seems we as photographers just do it to challenge ourselves. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I think that pushing the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope is a mistake.

    Fireworks over, say, the Haunted Mansion (I don’t even know if this is possible, just a random example) adds nothing to a nighttime photo. In fact, I’d say it detracts from the shot, as fireworks make literally no sense in the context of an ominous mansion. By contrast, every Disney film we’ve ever seen starts with fireworks over that castle, and that’s such an iconic scene that even if it’s been done countless times before, it’s tough to top…even with an envelope-pushing shot elsewhere.

    Just my opinion, I know plenty of others love the unique fireworks spots.

    • Adam Hansen   |   Oct 4, 2013

      I completely agree that it is not for everyone and if you are looking for the best way to view the show, then there is no other option besides Main Street.

      For me, I personally prefer it because I enjoy photographing fireworks, but I don’t enjoy staking out a spot ahead of time. I will say that when it comes to the special shows like HalloWishes, I will take the time to get a Main Street spot because I could not imagine paying a ticket price and not seeing the full show. I know when I am photographing Wishes from these locations, that I am not viewing the whole show, especially in some spots where the fireworks are going off behind you.

      You are probably right that some scenes it makes no sense and is instead just a challenge, but I think that is fine. I think if you are able to compose the scene well, then the fireworks do offer something different. In those cases though, the focus needs to be on the scene and not the fireworks, because they are secondary. Plus there is nothing wrong with a challenge when you have photographed the same fireworks shows dozens of times and it will probably be around for a long time at this rate.

      The night I photographed from New Fantasyland, I didn’t really have any other choice to be honest. Alan and I had walked into the Magic Kingdom about 30 minutes before Wishes was to start and the place was packed. There was no way we could have gotten a good spot on Main Street, so one of these locations was the best choice for us.

      For me it works and I still get to enjoy the awesome shots from Main Street that you guys take! :)

      PS: You can get a shot of fireworks over the Haunted Mansion from the Rivers of America. I know that is now on your list for next time!

    • Alan Rappaport   |   Oct 4, 2013

      That’s an interesting perspective Tom that you and Ryan share, and not something I really had ever considered. I suppose that goes without saying though when you look at my approach to shooting fireworks.

      I agree with you that those ‘intended’ locations are going to give the biggest bang for your buck. Fireworks are no different than any other Disney attraction.

      Imagineers set the stage and painstakingly placed performers for guests to have an optimal viewing. Fireworks over the castle are timeless, classic and always epic.

      With that said, I still love the off-the-beaten-path shots. To me, they show a lot of creativity from the photographers who seek out unique vantage points. They usually provide visuals that I have never witnessed in person which I always appreciate when browsing my contacts’ photos.

      The continuity of the show may be broken by these different locations, but I still find the shots in most cases to be spectacular.

      Fireworks over the mansion might be an odd mix, but it’s still a shot I would love to see. Especially if it was Hallowishes!

      • Kristi Creed   |   Oct 5, 2013

        Interesting post…..like all the different perspectives, but like Alan, I don’t always enjoy waiting out a spot and like to have various locations/views of the fireworks in the park and like to capture a variety of Wishes photos. I like the typical views for being what you think of at Magic Kingdom for fireworks, but also like the other perspectives that show you viewed Wishes from other parts of the park.

  2. DreGGs   |   Oct 4, 2013

    I tend to like the spot over towards tomorrowland. If you get there early enough there are a few advantages, one of which being a table/chair :)

    Some argue that the “perspective” of this location is a bit off putting because its not straight on to the castle, but I personally enjoy being able to get “everything” in a shot. Added bonus, the trees give a great natural “vignette” effect. See example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dreggs/9895588236/

    • Adam Hansen   |   Oct 4, 2013

      That looks like a great spot! Thanks for sharing.

    • Alan Rappaport   |   Oct 4, 2013

      That’s a great spot and shot! I love the elevated perspective over the crowd. I don’t mind that it’s not straight on.

  3. Keith Kolmos   |   Oct 4, 2013

    This is a really great idea for a series of articles. I like all four of the perspectives. I don’t think I’ve ever watched WISHES from somewhere other than Main Street so I like seeing the shots taken from different locations.

    Gold star to whomever came up with the idea for this series!

  4. Bowenbee   |   Oct 4, 2013

    I definitely agree with Ryan, and Mr. Bricker’s sentiments. While it’s different to see Wishes from new or less seen locations, the very highlight of shooting Wishes for me is having the castle in the shot, somehow, someway. It’s just the epitome of a Disney Fireworks shot no matter how many times it’s been done, it never gets old to me. Sure, getting in thick of the crowds and waiting (somewhat) patiently to photography wishes isn’t always desirable. But those thoughts leave my mind once I see the results of my efforts.



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