28 Photogenic Options for July 4th Fireworks Nationwide, Part 1: AL to MA

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There is perhaps no truer sign of summer than Independence Day in the United States. The Fourth of July is when the summer season kicks into full gear, with barbeques, pool parties, family gatherings, and road trips galore—not to mention the fireworks!

One lead-up to this holiday that I will never forget found me hurtling down the New Jersey Turnpike at sunset in a Greyhound bus. As the twilight deepened, bright bursts of fireworks began shooting up past the tree line, close by and at a distance, reflecting in the darkened glass of the windows like a kaleidoscope as we hurtled through space. This experience instilled a vision of small communities near and far, gathering together to revel in the season and to celebrate American Independence with rockets’ red glare.

Above photograph of fireworks over Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, FL © Joshua T. Moore

In tribute to such photogenic events, we went in search of photographers who have captured such moments in smaller communities, from coast to coast. In this installment, we feature their images and stories of firework shows in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Jackie Nix

Fifteen miles northwest of the capital of Montgomery, the city of Prattville, Alabama, puts on an annual Fourth of July celebration including a morning parade, a lunchtime barbeque with children’s activities at Pratt Park, and culminating in a fireworks display after dark, with free admission to the nearby Stanley Jensen Stadium, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

As an alternative to the stadium experience, local photographer Jackie Nix set up with her camera gear and a lawn chair in Autauga Creek, about 100 to 200 yards west of the Selma Highway bridge. “This way I could get the lights of the bridge and the reflections of the fireworks in the creek,” she says. “It’s also just a tad bit cooler there, but that’s relative,” she notes. “It is Alabama, after all.”

Using a Manfrotto Compact Advanced tripod to stabilize her Nikon D7200 with a Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art lens, Nix took advantage of her camera’s spot-metering capabilities and the wide-angle framing of her lens, setting her aperture to f/8 and exposing for 4 seconds at ISO 160. “Most local photographers either set up in the creek like I did, or on one of the two bridges that have a direct sightline to the display,” she adds.

Eric Elsensohn

Nestled at the foot of glacial mountains on Baranof Island, on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage, the city of Sitka, Alaska, hosts a grand celebration from July 1 to 4, complete with a July 4 parade, game and food booths, demonstrations, and other happenings, culminating in a late-night fireworks display.

“Fireworks, launched from the University of Alaska, Southeast Sitka Campus boat ramp area, can be seen near the Sitka Channel, and the downtown area,” says local photographer Eric Elsensohn. “Being in Alaska, it doesn’t get dark during summer until late in the evening, so the firework display usually starts at around 10:00 p.m. People stake out their favorite viewing spot a couple of hours early and make an evening of it.”

Using a tripod and a remote shutter release to keep his camera stable, Elsensohn photographed the 2014 fireworks with a Nikon 3200 and an AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/35.-5.6 lens. He notes, “I located myself near the ANB harbor, on the opposite side of the channel. Many spectators watch the fireworks display from the John O’Connell bridge and near the harbors on the Kaitlian Street side of the channel.”

Jim Moon, Whisper River Photography

Eleven miles southeast of Phoenix, the city of Tempe, Arizona, hosts the July Fourth Town Lake Festival, which concludes with a spectacular firework show from the Mill Avenue Bridges. Festivities include live entertainment and a family fest with an inflatable village, rock climbing walls, a Family Splash Zone, a variety of rides, face painting, relay races, and food courts featuring BBQ, hot dogs, snow cones, and more. General admission to Tempe Beach Park is $5 for adults, but free for children 12 or under.

The day before the event, in 2011, photographer Jim Moon scouted a good vantage point between the two bridges on the north side of the lake, and he arrived early on the 4th to stake his spot, before families start showing up for a late picnic in advance of the show.

With his Canon EOS 60D and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens mounted on a tripod, Moon set his ISO to 100 and his aperture to f/9.5. He captured the bridges and spectators with the 18mm wide-angle overview at left, exposed at 3 seconds. Then, zooming in for a close-up of the bridge, he was met with the happy accident of extra fireworks shells exploding at the same time, which he captured in the 1-second exposure at right. “A grand light display,” he said.

Luc Mena

Located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the mountain community of Big Bear Lake, California, holds an Independence Day Fair at the Convention Center, a Rotary Club barbeque at the Marina Resort, and a July 4 Fireworks Spectacular, which is arguably the biggest display in Southern California. Fireworks are shot off from a barge positioned directly off Pine Knot Landing, making them visible from any of the surrounding public parks, as well as from a boat.

Los Angeles-based photographer Luc Mena set up on the northeast side of the lake for a picnic with some friends, “Along with lots and lots of other people, while we waited for the fireworks to start,” he says. He used a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with an RRS BH-40 ball head to stabilize his Olympus E-5 mirrorless camera, and 14-54 f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko lens. Setting his ISO to 100 and zooming the lens to 27mm, he exposed this image at f/11 for 14 seconds.

“Big Bear gets very crowded for the 4th of July, and it took us an hour to get out of town on our drive back to Los Angeles after the show was over,” he notes. “But, it’s only a bit over two hours from LA when there’s no traffic.”

Josh T. Moore

“For the past two decades, St. Augustine, Florida, has been putting on one of the largest fireworks displays on the East Coast,” says Tennessee-based photographer Josh T. Moore. “They are always in the bay area near the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the Bridge of Lions.”

Since July 4th corresponds with Moore’s wedding anniversary, he and his wife generally travel to experience holiday fireworks in different cities. Of the seven shows he has seen, Moore rates Fireworks Over the Matanzas second only to the fireworks at Colonial Williamsburg. St. Augustine’s 20-minute display boasts 5,000 individual shells exploding as high as 2,000 feet and as low as 100 feet, choreographed to a soundtrack of patriotic music that can be heard across the entire bayfront area. Before the fireworks, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., the public is treated to a free two-hour concert by the popular local band The All-Star Orchestra, featuring big band and swing music, along with patriotic favorites.

As Moore points out, this event gets very crowded, which can be overwhelming; however, he found a great spot for an unobstructed view near the back corner of the fort. Due to his volunteer work as a National Park photographer, Moore wanted to feature Castillo de San Marcos in his pictures to promote the mission of the park service. By choosing a vantage point along the moat wall, he could benefit from a 10-foot difference in height between where he stood and other spectators seated below him. With his Nikon D7100 and Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR lens steadied on a Manfrotto BeFree tripod, Moore aligned the fort’s limestone wall along the bottom edge of his frame, and set his lens to 52mm with an aperture of f/7.1. Once the show started, he captured a series of 15-second exposures about 30 seconds apart. “If I saw a pause in the performance, I would stop until I saw the fireworks launch again,” he adds.

Christopher Bebout

On the southeast coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Saint Simons Island, Georgia, has celebrated the annual St. Simons Island Sunshine Festival at the Pier Village for more than 60 years, with a grand fireworks display as day turns to night. Additionally, 5K and 1-mile running races, an arts and crafts show, and live music offer family-friendly fun from July 4 - 7.

Florida-based commercial photographer Christopher Bebout captured this image during his first visit to the Island, on July 4, 2015, using a Canon 5D MK II with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens and a sturdy Manfrotto tripod and Manfrotto XPRO Magnesium Ball Head.

“I located where the fireworks would be ignited before setting up my composition, making sure to include the river with a perspective of the audience watching,” he explains. “I wanted to give viewers a sense of where they could place themselves in the scene if they wanted to capture a photo of their own, or to visit next year.”

As Bebout points out, “Never use autofocus in a situation like this. Place your focus where the fireworks are being ignited, … the lens will not focus properly on its own in the dark.”

He also depends on a Vello Wireless ShutterBoss intervalometer for the ability to capture long exposures without risk of camera shake. “This gives me the option to hold the button for as long or short as I need and to anticipate when a burst is about to go off, as well as to see when they end.”

With his ISO set to 1600, Bebout used a 16mm focal length with an aperture of f/6.3 for a 3-second exposure. Then, working in post, he composited his two favorite bursts into a single image and adjusted the colors, highlights, and overall mood for maximum impact.

Mark Richardson

Tucked into the eastern edge of Idaho, 18 miles from the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, the rural community of Ashton, Idaho, hosts a July 4 fireworks show at the local soccer field, as well as morning and afternoon events in the city park—all of which have an authentic small-town America feel.

“They've had it every year as far as I can remember, says Mark Richardson an Idaho Falls-based image maker and the creative director for media production company Porter Pro Media. “We've been going to Ashton for the past eight to 10 years, to avoid the large crowds in the town we live in, which is just an hour or so away.”

Richardson’s 2012 image was made with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 at ISO 320 for a 1/3-second exposure. He used a Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 ASPH lens wide open, and stabilized his setup with a MeFoto tripod. Richardson has since upgraded much of his gear, typically shooting still photos with a Canon 5D Mark IV and using a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 as his go-to lens.

He notes, “The crowd in Ashton is usually just a hundred people or so, and you can find a great spot directly across the road from where they light the display.”

Micah Clare

Situated in the southwest corner of Indiana, 35 miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio, the historic river town of Aurora, Indiana, holds the two-day festival Red, White & Boom, this year scheduled for the weekend of June 29 to 30.

The many events include free military-boat rides, a lighted boat parade, classic car show, craft show, beer and wine garden, cultural performances and bands, with the celebration culminating in fireworks over the Ohio River at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night.

For this 2013 image, Kentucky-based photographer Micah Clare stepped away from the riverfront to set up on a hill directly behind Mary Stratton Park, using a Manfrotto 190XPRO tripod with a Nikon D2H and an AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Setting the camera’s ISO to 200, Clare framed the scene with the lens wide open at 18mm for a 6-second exposure. Notes Clare, “From this vantage point, one also gets a great view of Aurora, the ‘city of spires,’ against the backdrop of the Ohio River. It’s just a few hundred feet away from Hillforest mansion, another great location to be photographed.”

Judd Rankin

Located midway between Des Moines and Iowa City, 10 miles south of Interstate 80, the small city of Montezuma, Iowa, hosts the celebration, Let Freedom Ring, on the Saturday closest to July 4—this year, on June 30. Downtown events include an open-air market, food vendors, sidewalk sales, a Lions Club barbeque and tractor show, two parades, amusements, and live entertainment. To cap off the festivities, a grand fireworks display is held over Lake Ponderosa, 4 miles west of the city, sponsored by the Lake Ponderosa Association.

“Starting around 8:00 p.m., many of the lake residents pile into their boats and head out onto the lake in preparation for the fireworks, which generally start around 9:00,” says Des Moines-based photographer Judd Rankin. “Since the lake is private, the public isn't allowed to have boats on the water, but people from Montezuma and surrounding towns will come and park along the side of the road to catch the fireworks display. Cars line the shoulder of Highway 57, the man-made dam for the lake, in both directions as far as you can see. Some people begin parking along the highway in mid-afternoon to ensure they get a good spot.”

Rankin’s family owns a property on the lake, so in 2017, he photographed the fireworks from their boat. After securing his Nikon D600 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens on a Vanguard Alta 233AO tripod and setting his aperture to f/2.5, he made 1/10-second exposures of the fireworks at ISO 100. His final image combines bursts from two or three frames, juxtaposed by boats with fellow spectators in silhouette to tell the full story of the event.

“The show generally lasts about an hour, and it has one of the best finales that I've ever seen,” Rankin notes. “If you're ever in the area during the 4th of July, it's definitely worth swinging by to catch a glimpse.”

Christian Skilbeck

80 miles southwest of the capital of Topeka, White City, Kansas, hosts a homegrown Independence Day Celebration on the closest Saturday to July 4. Featuring a morning 5K race and softball tournament, an afternoon parade, turtle races, a pedal tractor pull, and other kids games, concession stands, and ending with evening fireworks that promise an aerial treat accompanied by live music, this year’s celebration takes place on Saturday July 7. “The festivities are centered around the local park and baseball field, but other good viewing spots for the fireworks can be found along Avenue H,” says Topeka-based photographer Christian Skilbeck, who captured the grass-roots splendor from across a nearby corn field.

With his Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens secured to a Gitzo 3541XLS Tripod and Markins ball head, and his ISO set to 500, Skilbeck used an aperture of f/16 for a 1-second exposure in the image above. “I probably took more than 100 photos of the show, with varying exposure times,” he notes. “The trick is to get a clean shot. If the exposure is too long the photo can get messy. To help with this, I set the camera to bulb and used a Nikon remote shutter release to better isolate a cluster of fireworks.”

Steven Herrera

Located adjacent to Eastern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, 45 miles southeast of Lexington, the unincorporated community of Slade, Kentucky, is primarily known as a haven to rock climbers, who flock from around the world to scale the nearby sandstone cliffs, often staying at a campground operated by the mom and pop shop Miguel’s Pizza.

In 2016, adventure photographer and rock-climbing specialist Steven Herrera captured the spectacle of an informal fireworks show that takes place there every year, in celebration of Independence Day. “There is no specific name to it,” he notes. “It’s just a yearly celebration, usually on the Saturday of the July 4 weekend, with a lot of people, pizza, and Ale-8-One (a Kentucky-made ginger ale).”

Using a MeFoto Roadtrip Aluminum Travel Tripod to steady his Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens, Herrera shot wide open at 1/3-second, with an ISO of 2000 to capture the unscripted show. “You can stand as close as about 100 feet from the fireworks,” Herrera notes. “It is loud, super bright, and very hot!”

Barbara West

In the heart of the Maine woods, 10 miles southwest of Millinocket, July 4 is typically the liveliest day of the year in the township of Cedar Lake, Maine, according to summer resident and photographer Barbara West. “Families and friends celebrate our nation’s birthday with cookouts, boating, waterskiing, tubing, swimming, four wheeling, and more, and cap off Independence Day with fireworks at various camps around the lake,” she explains.

Using a Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod and 498RC2 Ball Head to steady her Canon 6D and EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens, West adjusted her ISO to 200, and zoomed her lens out to 160mm at f/8.0 for an exposure time of 5.8 seconds to capture the action.

“Whether sitting around a campfire, on a deck, dock, or at the beach, fireworks can be seen all around the lake,” notes West. “People also take their boats out on the water to view the light display, honking their horns in appreciation of the beautiful show. For a couple of hours, our little community comes together in celebration of our country and freedom, when all eyes are on the sky and cheers are heard around the lake.”

Nathan Jackson

Fourteen miles northeast of Washington, DC, the suburb of Greenbelt, Maryland, holds a July 4 celebration at Buddy Attick Lake Park, featuring a community drum circle, music from the Greenbelt Concert Band, and ending with a fireworks show on the lake.

“It was a cool, scenic way to spend the evening,” says local photographer Nate Jackson. “We parked at the church nearby and hiked through the woods to get there, which added to the experience. Although there were lots of people, we were able to find a decent viewing spot at a clearing in the trees next to the lake. There are many spots like that all around the lake, if you want to avoid the big crowd in the main clearing.”

Jackson brought his Pentax K-r camera and a few lenses, hoping to get a good shot of the fireworks. Intrigued by the lighting and silhouettes the fireworks created on people in the foreground, he mounted his wide-angle fisheye, the Pentax SMCP-DA 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 ED (IF) lens. Since he was handholding his camera, Jackson boosted his ISO to 3200 and kept his lens wide open for an exposure time of 1/40 second.

“I wish I had brought a tripod for longer exposures, but I was happy to get this perspective with the fisheye when my son scooted closer to the water to lay back and watch,” he adds. “All in all, it was one of our favorite fireworks experiences!”

Jill Waterman

Hugging the coastline 16 miles northeast of Boston, my hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts, hosts a spectacular July 4 celebration that combines arts and culture with a rather unique fireworks display. I might be biased, but to quote from a local news source, “No one does the Fourth of July quite like Marblehead.”

For the past 56 years, the local community has welcomed July with the Marblehead Festival of the Arts, a multi-day, town-wide celebration featuring a wide range of art exhibits, waterfront concerts, a Film Festival, Artisans’ Marketplace, Street Festival, Children’s Festival, and many other cultural activities, this year scheduled from June 29 to July 4.

In 2018, the party peaks on the evening of July 4, with the traditional Fireworks & Harbor Illumination, whereby the entire harbor is set aglow by red torches, lit one at a time from end to end, 15 minutes before the fireworks commence.

I’ve been fortunate to witness and photograph this event many times over the years, but my all-time favorite experience was spending the holiday on a friend’s sailboat, in 2002, moored just off the fireworks blast site on the Causeway (this site has since moved to a barge moored off the mouth of the harbor). Shooting with an analog Nikon F3 loaded with Fujifilm Velvia 50 slide film, and a 50mm NIKKOR f/1.4 manual focus lens with the aperture set fairly wide, I used the sailboat mast as a rudimentary stabilizing device for my long exposures. I generally judge my exposure times by the number of bursts going off, but I was likely leaving my shutter open for 15 to 30 seconds at a time, shielding my lens with black fabric in between bursts, as an attempt to minimize motion blur. The resulting pictures—crisp fireworks in the sky, with atmospheric color and motion in the foreground—proved to be as unique of an experience to capture as the show.

Click here to read the companion article, 28 Photogenic Options for July 4th Fireworks Nationwide, Part 2: MI to WY.

Do you have a favorite July 4 fireworks show not mentioned above, or a cherished memory at one of these events? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below!

Please note: in the case of discontinued photo gear, product links in this article offer the closest currently available items.

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