fourth of july

Luray Fireworks from Skyline Drive by Todd Henson

First grouping of multiple fireworks images.

Luray, Virginia, home to Luray Caverns, sits in a valley visible from Skyline Drive, the road that stretches from one end to the other of Shenandoah National Park atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had always been curious what Luray’s Fourth of July fireworks would look like from Skyline Drive, so one year my brother and I decided to find out.

Skyline Drive and Luray are actually pretty far apart, probably 6 to 8 miles. Being able to see Luray from the road makes it seem much closer than it is. And as large as fireworks seem when they burst, you have to be close for them to have any real impact. So the fireworks were far smaller than I’d imagined.

Second grouping of multiple fireworks images.

Third grouping of multiple fireworks images.

We weren’t the only ones curious about the view, though, as the overlook quickly filled with cars and people. I imagine many were camping in the park and these overlooks were the closest they could come to viewing the fireworks without leaving the park.

As small as the show was from this distance I still enjoyed watching and photographing it. I debated not posting anything from this trip as the photos are not very good fireworks photos. But I enjoyed the trip and thought you might enjoy seeing what fireworks in a valley look like when viewed from atop a nearby mountain.

First set of fireworks, groups from earlier in the show.

To create these images I imported them all into Photoshop and merged together multiple shots, combining individual fireworks into groups. The horizontal images were composed of fireworks set off in sequence. For the vertical images I selected whichever displays I thought went well together, creating my own groupings. You’ll see some of the same displays in multiple images.

Second set of fireworks, groups from midway through the show.

So far these are the only fireworks I’ve attempted to photograph, though I’m sure I’ll make more attempts in the future. I hope this encourages you to give it a try. Find a local fireworks display, pick a decent location, set up your camera on a tripod, and experiment with different shutter speeds, see what works for you.

This image is a single photograph towards the end of the fireworks show.

All these images were shot at ISO 200, which was the base ISO of my camera. Using the base ISO would force longer shutter speeds after dark, which would allow nice streaks of light as the fireworks burst. I had the camera in manual mode to allow me to choose the aperture and shutter speed. This allowed me to keep the scene dark since it was at night. In an auto mode the camera would have attempted to lighten the scene. I set the aperture between f/16 and f/25, though I could have used other apertures. My shutter speed was between 8 seconds and 30 seconds. Looking back, I should have put the camera in bulb mode, where the shutter would remain open as long as I held the shutter button (or remote release, which I would recommend). Then I might have captured more bursts in a single image.

All the photos were shot at 200mm, which was the longest lens I had at the time. As you can see in the uncropped image, this left a lot of blank space in the frame, so I cropped the rest of the images on the computer. If you’re closer to the fireworks this shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Uncropped version of the final image, showing how far away Luray was from Skyline Drive.

Now it’s your turn. Next time there will be fireworks in your area grab your camera, tripod, and remote shutter release, and head out to find an interesting location. Try to find something of interest in the foreground that will be lit by the fireworks, maybe a building or a bridge. Having something interesting in the frame can make a much stronger fireworks image than just photographing the fireworks themselves, which is what I’ve done here.

Give it a try. See what you can create. And don’t forget to enjoy the show!