This past weekend, our family was able to spend a few days (including July 4th) in Steamboat Springs — always a treat and source of plenty of photographic opportunities to boot. This is the first time, though, that I had the opportunity to photograph the town’s fireworks. So since there’s not a whole lot of information about the show online, I thought I should do a quick write-up to help future visiting photographers.
At least when we visited, the fireworks were shot off from three locations on the sides of Howelsen Hill — centered roughly on the ski jump, south and west of downtown. This means that many spots downtown will give you a partial view of the fireworks, but they seem to be fired to a low altitude — so unless you’ve got rooftop access, you’re likely to have an obstructed view.
We sat in / I photographed from a blocked-off parking lot, just across the street from the town’s firehouse / police station. Had I known in advance about the low elevation of the fireworks, though, I think we would have picked a different spot.
Aerial photography courtesy of OpenStreetMap.org
One of my big challenges was dealing with a black wrought iron fence between this parking lot viewing position and the river. Since the fireworks were fired to low elevations from three widely-spaced positions, it took more than a bit of care to avoid making the fence an inadvertent compositional element.
Since there’s a small strip of land between the fence and river, I’d recommend it as a better photography vantage point. And bring a wide lens (or multiple cameras) — there’s no predicting which of the three locations will fire the next great burst of color. The image above was shot with a 12mm lens on a micro-4/3 body, so the equivalent of a full-frame 24mm lens in terms of field of view (and even then, I could only capture two of the fireworks launch sites in one shot).
You could also cross over to the south/west side of the river (see the aerial photograph I’ve included above for ideas), but I’m not sure what areas there are fenced off for safety’s sake.
In spite of these challenges, I made some photographs that I’m happy with, and the family thoroughly enjoyed the show. Take some of my tips to heart, though, and you should have a much higher percentage of “keepers” to show off to the world.
As for gear, I used my Olympus E-M1 body sporting its 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, mounted on a tripod, and photographing in “Live Time” mode using a corded release (ISO 200, f/8). For fireworks, I’m absolutely satisfied with this setup.