Marblehead lights flares that glow red at sundown and reflect off the surface of the harbor

Tips for shooting the Salem or Marblehead Massachusetts fireworks

Here are my Tips for shooting the Salem or Marblehead Massachusetts fireworks.

Three bursts over Marblehead lighthouse

Marblehead Lighthouse with three bursts

Soon explosions Painting light trails across the sky with a loud retort reverberating back across the water will be heard.  The 4th of July is just a little ways off and I’ve been seeing some questions on the Marblehead Fireworks Forever Facebook page. I started off asking about where everybody likes to shoot from… Let’s just say that no one likes to reveal their secret location but questions on how to shoot them did come out. You can also read this Popular Photography article of shooting fire works.

Marblehead lighthouse fireworks from Chandler Hovey

Feathered light falling above Marblehead Lighthouse

Here are my top tips based on my years photographing the Marblehead and Salem Fireworks. If you don’t want the technical tips, then my location tips are (mostly) at the bottom for Shooting the Marblehead and Salem fireworks.

Use a Tripod
There are  two trains of thought on this and if you want some crazy patterns to the lights then by all means hand hold it and what the hey move the camera while the shutter is open and paint with light. Most folks want nice straight streams of light and not blurry so in this case a tripod is a must.

Cable Release or remote trigger

Marblehead Fireworks exploding above point light

Marblehead lighthouse fireworks What NOT to do!

Whether you think you are moving the camera or not you will be adding to the vibration if the camera by touching it, heck I’ve done it that way and I can see the difference by using a cable release.

Framing Your Shot
The first year that I made a real attempt at catching fireworks I was so proud of the location I found (Fountain park) and I could see the light house and Fort Sewall. I didn’t take into consideration where the fireworks would be fired from and the angle needed to get them and the lighthouse in the same shot. So I had more than a few shots with more than half the explosion exploding out of the frame. (seen at left)  So being too close is just as bad as being too far away.

Watch your Horizons
There is a rule called the rule of thirds ( If you are going for a frame filling explosion then this won’t matter as much but if you are far enough

Marblehead lighthouse fireworks from Chandler Hovey

close up view of fireworks explosion

away then you need to keep this in mind, read the wiki link on composition.

Focal Length or how much lens to use
I normally use a 24-105 lens to do this kind of shot. A wide angle is nice but tends to make things real small unless you are right in the thick of the action. A big telephoto has the same issue

close up view of fireworks explosion

close up view of fireworks explosion

unless you are a half mile away.  **I prefer a mid-range tele-lens that allows some wide angle and some zoom capability. I believe in flexibility.**

I plan on setting my aperture/f-stop for f8 which is normally the sharpest setting for most lenses. **I also use auto focus on the first shot while there’s still light in the sky.  After this I turn off the auto focus since if the camera doesn’t have something bight to focus on it won’t let you take the shot.**

***Another of my secret techniques is to open the shutter before anything is happening (black sky) and then I hold the shutter open for the count of one thousand one, one thousand two..  You get the idea, then at some point, I release it and stand ready for the next shot.***

Shutter Speed
Well this is a no brainer… less light means longer exposure times and the shutter speed will be in seconds.

This depends on your camera. My normal setting is an ISO of 400 but my newer camera could go as high as 1600 if I wanted to but you take the chance to induce noise into the shot (colored dots of light). If your camera is prone to noise then set it for a low ISO and make your exposures/shutter speed longer.

Shoot in Manual Mode (please tell me you didn’t figure this out before this)
If you don’t have a manual mode (most point and shoot cameras are in this group) then see if it has a fireworks mode or a mode that allows you to keep the shutter open. (RTFM) Yes Read The Freakin Manual and see what it says..

Marblehead Fireworks exploding above point light

Marblehead lighthouse fireworks from Seaside Park

Now my location tips.
Marblehead fireworks:
Fountain Park is a great location but it’s so close that you have trouble getting the lighthouse and the fireworks in the shot together.

Seaside Park isn’t bad but it’s a long way off and bring big fast glass 110-200mm.
Crocker Park is good but very crowded with people who know this location.
**Chandler Hovey Park is one of my favorites since you can get the lighthouse and the fireworks into the same shot

Salem Fireworks exploding behind the tallship Friendship

Friendship of Salem MA with fireworks

Salem Fireworks:
I arrive here early and I like to sit off the aft end of the ship. The fireworks are fired down at the end of the pier by the lighthouse. My goal was to have the explosions going off behind the mast.
I’ve only shot here once and I think anywhere to the rear of the ship will be good. If you move too far to the left you will get all the crowds in the shot.. (your call). Remember to check the tide charts and if it’s a high tide you can get a reflection also!

Questions? curious about parking?? What to wear?  Well!!!  Leave a comment  :-)

Jeff “Foliage” Folger
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