Neutral Density Filter for Photographing Disney Fireworks

I’m a big fan of photographing the Disney fireworks with neutral density filters. I’ve photographed all of the fireworks shows enough times that I have more photos of them than I’ll ever know what to do with, but I can’t resist the urge to shoot them every night we’re at Disneyland or Walt Disney World. It’s like some strange addiction.

Neutral density filters for fireworks appeal to me for a couple of reasons. First, they can make for a colorful, chaotic, and bombastic (/obscure ISO 5571 reference) photo. Second, they add a challenge to photographing the fireworks, making fireworks photography a high risk, high reward proposition.

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate the level of risk inherent in using a neutral density filter, and the potential fruits of taking the risk. This post assumes you know both how to photograph fireworks and have a neutral density filter. If you don’t know how to photograph fireworks, here’s a good starting point. If you aren’t familiar with neutral density filters, here’s a post I wrote a while back and have updated regularly comparing different options I’ve owned, tested, and researched.

The best way to tackle this post is through examples, so let’s take a frame by frame, minute by minute, look at my shots from the “Remember… Dreams Come True” fireworks at Disneyland.

After we’re done with the series, I’ll examine the upside and downside to using an ND filter to photograph fireworks…

9:23:09 p.m. – Since “Remember… Dreams Come True” starts at 9:25 p.m., you might be thinking that the time here is a typo. It’s not. Knowing that the lights illuminating Partners and in the trees are turned off once the fireworks start, I started this 280 second exposure roughly 2 minutes before the fireworks were set to begin to obtain an even exposure of the foreground. I’ve seen others accomplish a similar result via compositing multiple photos, but I wanted to do it the natural way. I think the difference here is that the trees and Partners more naturally blend with the sky. At nearly 5 minutes long, the other 2.67 minutes of the photo came during the opening minutes of the fireworks. As soon as the first scene ended, I closed the shutter…

9:27:50 p.m. – With the neutral density filter I was using, overexposing the scene is a not much of an issue, but focus is. Had I been playing it safe, I would have thoroughly reviewed my first shot to make sure my exposure guestimates were on-point and (more importantly) I would have zoomed in on the first photo to make sure everything was sharp. At f/3.2, it’s very easy to mix focus. However, I wanted to enjoy the show, and I also was willing to take the risk to catch more ambient light. This shot lasted 95 seconds…

On Page 2, we’ll look at the rest of the shots, plus general thoughts on using neutral density filters for fireworks…

29 Responses to “Neutral Density Filter for Photographing Disney Fireworks”
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