BZ's 2010 San Francisco 4th of July

Photo Gallery

4th of July and Fireworks is as American a tradition as Mom and Applepie! Of course, in the hyper-nanny state of California, and especially the 'zero-tolerance' cities of the Bay area, enjoying fireworks have become relegated to a spectator sport. I remember the days when bottle rockets, and... sigh, don't get me started. :-)

There used to be quite the selection of firework displays that Bay Area residents could attend. But over the years, the list have dwindled down to a very small number. This year the list got even smaller as more shows were cut due to budget problems. Of the remaining shows, one of the most well known and attended would have to the San Francisco Fireworks display. Though not as extravegant as in prior years, it was still a great show!
Nikon D300 w/ 18-105mm VR lens - Bernard Zee

Aquatic park starts filling up early, as people people stake out a piece of ground in anticipation of the show.

Since I too, want to ensure our family got prime spots, I dragged everyone out to Fort Mason by 4pm. In retrospect, 5 and a half hours was probably a wee bit TOO early, and a very long time to be sitting out in the cold wind!

I'm not too bored though, as I'm on the lookout for birds and other interesting things to photograph on the bay. Here's a seagull picking something yummy out of the water.

I also try to frame the birds with an interesting background, which doesn't happen all that often though. That's the Balcutha sailing ship behind the gull.

Actually, this was shot with one of my bigger zoom lenses. Looks like the 'Cats Aye' crew have a good time on the water.

With the obligatory Alcatraz shot...

The occasional fishing/tour boat would go out, but I don't know how comfortable it was. The waters looked really choppy, and the wind was blowing hard! Cold too.

Here's a shot of one of the launch sites on the municipal pier at Aquatic Park. There's a mirror launch site on a barge off of pier 39.

As Twilight gathers, Police and Coast Guard Auxiliary boats make their presence known, and clear the area 0.5 miles around the launch site.

There was music and a live band playing to entertain the crowd at Aquatic Park prior to the fireworks display. Even though we were more than a mile away, we could still hear (some) of the music!

Some of the resturants at Fisherman's Wharf, and the Bay Bridge can be seen in this night shot.

View of the Fort Mason Fire House and lights reflecting off the water. It's getting close to show time!

And the long wait is finally over! Oh no, look at that fog though!

Thankfully, the fog only obscurred the 'upper' half of the fireworks show.

Kind of to be expected at San Francisco, but one can 'hope'.

The 'mirrored' fireworks explosions can be seen in the lower left of this shot.

Many of the shots of the high fireworks show as one big light smear due to the fog, but this one came out ok.

Here's what foggy fireworks look like!

It wasn't quite as loud as I thought it would be. May be the fog or the wind blowing the wrong way...

This was like a cascading curtain of gold.

The display was I believe 20 minutes long. Felt shorter than that though!

Luckily, the lower portion was relatively clear. This shot came out nice.

Shooting fireworks is like eating a box of chocolates (to rip off a Forrest Gump saying)... you never know what you're going to get!


Shooting fireworks is a lot of fun. Have to think time exposure though...

The ambient scene is usually very dark, and can usually be exposured for several seconds without problems.

The light is 'painted' on the scene by the exploding fireworks, and the resultant falling ambers.

What I try to do then, is to time the shot to capture the initial explosion(s), and keep it open long enough to get interesting patterns, but not so long that the scene is overwhelmed.

Depending on what's going on, that time period can be as short as half a second, or as long as 10 seconds.

A tripod is usually a good idea, though I've taken pictures of fireworks display without them in the past (always regretted not having it around though).

What's also VERY nice to have is a remote shutter release of some sort. This to prevent shaking the camera shen pressing or releasing the shutter button.

If you don't have a dedicated remote shutter release, you can try using the camera's timer button. This way, there would be no movement when the shot is taken. Usually only a problem if the scene has lit buildings in the background. Any wobble shows up then.

I got myself a wired remote shutter, which is perfectly suited for this sort of thing. What's so great about this gizmo, is that I can put the camera in manual mode, select 'Bulb', and the shutter will stay open as long as I hold the remote button pressed. Gives me a lot of control over the shot!

I really liked this one! You can see one of the exploding framents bouncing off the water.

To me, the initial explosion needs to be captured, as that forms the heart of the fireworks bloom. That means the shutter needs to be tripped while the shell is being launched.

Once again, would have been really nice if the fog was a few hundred feet higher!

My camera setting (if anyone is interested) was Manual mode, bulb, F-9.5, ISO 200 (would have been set lower, but that's the min for my camera). I would probably shoot F13 next time, as I think I was still getting too much light from the fireworks - or it could be the fog. :-)

The little squiggly lines on the water are time exposed lights of various boats on the bay.

I always enjoy watching the 4th of July fireworks displays. It's a once a year event that's a shared spectacle.

But as with any event involving large crowds, it's best to have a well thought out strategy on getting there, being prepared, and leaving the area.

One of my favorite shots of the night. The red glow from the fireworks reflected in the fog and water, silhouetting the nearby boats.

Recommendations for the San Francisco show include: bring winter clothing! Jackets, hats, gloves... Bring a lawn chair, and get there early! You don't have to overdo it like me, a couple of hours should be enough. :-)

Leaving the area though, can be a bit of a nightmare. Everyone is trying to get home on foot or in a vehicle. The city streets around the waterfront are a parking lot! I would suggest having alternate routes - hopefully going the way opposite of where everyone else wants to head.

The fireworks leading to the finale are VERY cool. Stunning, jaw dropping, in their color, sizes, and variety!

As the explosions get closer together, the timed exposure needs to be shorter as well. Otherwise, the picture would be a big smear, and/or overexposed.

There were so many shells going up at the same time for the finale, it was very impressive!

No way to capture the very last group of explosions in a picture properly - it turned the night into day! At least for a second or two. Hope you liked the show!