Today’s “Disneyland Photo Tip of the Day” goes Ooh & Ahh over the different Fireworks viewing locations in Disneyland.
With the next Mice Chat Photo Meet rapidly approaching and the discussion of photographing either the Fireworks or World of Color, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the different locations in Disneyland for viewing and more importantly photographing the fireworks. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages, not to mention challenges. Before we get into the juicy details, you have to be aware that you will be lucky to get 2 or 3 really good images from an entire fireworks presentation. Sometimes I get lucky and get 4 or 5 that I am happy with and sometimes I only get 1 or strikeout altogether. A very helpful trick is to go onto Youtube and watch a video of that particular fireworks show before you go. Pay attention to the music and watch the explosions. This way you can know ahead of time what bursts you want to capture and when they will appear.
The first thing you need to understand about photographing the fireworks at Disneyland is that they only have a very small piece of sky in which to explode the shells. This means that the majority of the fireworks will be going off in the same exact spot and if you try to photograph several bursts in one exposure, you end up with a big ball of white blur. It also means that their smoke will fill the sky very quickly and cloud up the image.
Here’s a look at the fireworks from several locations around the park with a brief discussion on how to get the best results.
First we’ll start with the most popular and common location right in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Aside from having to set up at least 2 hours before the show starts, the main difficulty here is that you are very close to the explosions making it easy to overexpose the shot. Being that close also means that the explosions seem small behind the big castle right in front of you. Another huge challenge that is hard to overcome is the bright lighting on the center of the castle. That spot is almost always overexposed in every shot. The key to success here is using a shutter speed between 2 and 5 seconds, sometimes less than 1 second. During the finale, several burst go off on the front of the castle necessitating a very fast shutter speed. Turning the exposure compensation down 1 full stop can also help, especially if shooting hand held or using a Point & Shoot camera.
Here is a few from right across the street from the castle. You are a little further back, which gives you a slightly better chance not to overexpose the photo. The difficulty here is now you have people in front of you making it harder to use a tripod. I like to stand on the curb so I’m a little above the people right in front of me. As you can see by two big heads, it didn’t help that much. This also requires you to be there at least 2 hours before the show to get a good spot.
Here’s a few from in front of the Partner’s Statue. For these I set the tripod up on the planter so I was above the entire crowd. The problem here is that they turn off all the lights on the plants and the statue making them nothing more than a bunch of dark shapes in the foreground. I set up early and took photos of this before the show started so I could merge it with the fireworks images later. This spot doesn’t fill up as fast as the front of the castle so getting there around an hour before is usually ok.
Here is an example of what can happen if you are not fast enough to adjust your settings and take the shot. This is a 1 second exposure at F/9, ISO 100 and definitely not one of my finer moments.
This is the view from near the entrance to Frontierland. I’m not too fond of this spot because the trees cover a big piece of the castle and sky blocking some of the view. (I took these a long time ago without the use of a tripod or cable release.)
The same problem with the trees occurs across the plaza in front of the entrance to Tomorrowland. (These are also old photos and shot freehand.)
Here’s what it looks like from the end of Main St. As you can see, the fireworks seem much larger from this far back making them more impressive. The problem again is all the lights on Main St. are turned off during the show making all the buildings dark blocks in the foreground. In my usual fashion, I took several shots before the show so I could layer them together in Photoshop.
There are other fireworks viewing locations that Disneyland promotes such as in front of It’s a Small World. The nice thing here is that it isn’t very crowded and they project animation on the façade of the building during the show making the photos more interesting. Knowing that they launch the fireworks form a location behind Chip & Dale’s Treehouse in Toontown, I was able to pick a spot that put the fireworks in a good angle to the building.
Another nice location for viewing the fireworks is from the upper level of the Innoventions building in Tomorrowland. From this far away, you can get longer shutter speeds. I had several successful exposures ranging between 5 seconds all the way to 25 seconds. The thing I don’t like about this location is that the Matterhorn and Tomorrowland do not change making every shot look the same.
This is a composite of 8 images.
One of my favorite locations for photographing the fireworks is from the Photo Spot sign on the Rivers of America. This is one of those locations that is not easy to pull off. It can only be done on a night when there is no Fantasmic and preferably when the Mark Twain is docked in Frontierland. Only once have I had the pleasure of photographing from here because it is such a rare scheduling occurrence for it to happen. Much to my disappointment, they turned off all the lights on the Mark Twain and dock when the show began. Luckily I had taken several exposures of the Mark Twain with the lights on before the show started so I could merge them together.
There are a few other spots that I want to shoot the fireworks from such as the upper deck of Space Mountain and in front of Big Thunder Mountain. Hopefully I’ll be able to share those with you very soon.
Update 4-10-11. Here is a shot from the dead space between Rancho Del Zocalo and Big Thunder Mountain. It is usually nothing more than a stroller wasteland but it is the perfect spot to view the fireworks.
© Michael Greening 2011
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