Brian Mosley is “the fireworks guy.” Photographing fireworks in the nation’s Capital and writing about it on one of DC’s popular local blogs year after year will get you that kind of reputation. His work promoting Washington, DC’s annual celebration has been as much an act of devotion as a public service. He’s told people the best places to see the fireworks and offered advice to would-be photographers. He has led Meetup groups at DC’s Fourth of July celebration and even had one of his fireworks photos recognized in Exposed DC’s annual contest.
So when we were thinking of who to feature for our Fourth of July fireworks Q&A, we naturally thought of Brian, the former photo editor of the dearly departed We Love DC. We think this Q&A is a must read for anyone planning to brave the crowds on July 4th to get that “perfect” image.
DC Focused: We’ve linked to some of the technical aspects of shooting fireworks but If there was only one piece of advice you could give someone shooting fireworks in DC for the first time, what would it be?
Brian Mosley: Change up the settings of how you’re shooting, as the fireworks are happening. The best feature of digital photography is that you can change your ISO, shutter, and aperture from shot to shot; you’re not held to the 30-odd shots of the same setting like with film. So change your shutter speed constantly; zoom in and out (or even change lenses!); change your composition; do anything you can so you walk away with hundreds of original shots and not three hundred shots where the only thing that changes is the color of the fireworks. In a phrase, be creative.
Also, and this is advice I have to remind myself about, include people whenever possible. Most people don’t think to include people in firework photos, which make any shots that does include them, really stand out.
DCF: If someone wants to brave the crowds and camp out either at the base of the Washington Monument or in front of the Lincoln Memorial, what do they need to know to survive the experience?
BM: At the Washington Monument, arrive early (as in about 4 p.m.; this is what it looks like around 8pm with the last light of the day) and bring sunscreen and water; you’ll be there a long time. It’s where most people think the best view is, so that’s where most people go. I haven’t been to that spot in almost ten years because it gets so crowded, and crowded quickly. And I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this spot, as it isn’t very original in terms of view.
The Lincoln Memorial is easier to work with. Assuming a 9pm start to the fireworks, you’d need to get to the Lincoln by 7pm to find a good spot (though probably closer to 5pm, if you want to be right on the edge of the Reflecting Pool). It will get packed here too, but it is noticeably easier to live with.
DCF: What is your “perfect” fireworks shot? Describe what we’d see in the frame.
BM: The thing I love about firework photography is you’re trying to capture a bunch of things: light, color, scale, movement, and the experience. All of this while it is night out. Experienced photographers will notice that this list of things don’t really work together: brighter the light, the less color; the more movement, the less the experience is clear; and night photography is hard to get any of those things to come out.
Not to sound too arrogant, but I feel like I’ve gotten the “perfect” shot. A couple of times, in fact. Sometimes it was downtown on the 4th; sometimes it was elsewhere.
DCF: Is there a location someone can go to and avoid the crowds, or is that just a fantasy?
BM: Home — only spot in the area where you won’t be dealing with crowds on the 4th at some point. I realize this won’t help with taking photos of the fireworks, but it is the truth.
To answer more in the spirit of the question, there are a lot of spots that will have fewer people. The Mount Vernon Trail will be relatively light with people and offer excellent views. As will the south side of Tidal Basin. However, when you are heading home AFTER the fireworks, you’ll be dealing with the same crowds you’d be dealing with if you were at the Washington, Lincoln, or Iwo Jima. If you realize this and plan on a leisurely stroll to wherever you’re going after the event, it will make for a nicer Independence Day.
DCF: What was your favorite fireworks photo and what makes it special to you?
BM: My photos, particularly my firework photos, are like my children. I like them all for one reason or another! If I were to pick one as simply the “best,” it would have to be my “Moment to Capture” shot (the image at the top of the post). There is very little that’s wrong in that photo, and a lot that went right. The light lines are perfect; the smoke adds (rather than obscures) the shot; the Reflecting Pool is perfectly lit; and of course there’s the crowd with their LED phones.
But one I distinctly remembering wanting to get that same night was “I Stand with the General” (movie buffs will recognize this as a reference to a line from 1776). I wanted something zoomed in, showing the crazy way the fireworks can fly, while getting the top of the Washington Monument in the shot (see the image at the bottom of the post). That is all pretty hard to do when you’re hearing fireworks going off and knowing every second you spend adjusting the shot is a second of no firework photos. I got a couple of different versions, which kind of worked, but this was the only one I really loved.
All images © Brian Mosley. They are used here with permission. You can see more of Brian’s work here.