I had the opportunity to join Kylee Boggs and her volunteer crew while they shot off fireworks from the Walla Walla Point Park island on Saturday night, finally getting the chance after a few years of being offered.
With the park open to the public in years past, I couldn’t guarantee not getting caught in a traffic jam if a fire erupted somewhere in the Wenatchee Valley so I kept having to turn down Boggs’ invitations. This was the year to photograph them if ever there was one.
I made arrangements with the Chelan County PUD to get access to the park and then met with Boggs a few days before to go over what was going to happen the night of the fourth of July.
I showed up over an hour early to the park Saturday night wearing my wildfire gear that I use photographing brush and forest fires. Boggs walked me out to the island where rows of black, plastic pipe were standing in wooden structures, aluminum foil covering the top of each tube so flames wouldn’t fall into them and light a shell prematurely.
About 20 feet away from the electronic control board stood a 55-gallon drum with an eight-inch tube sticking out of it. That would be the first shell to go off and a record breaker for the Wenatchee Valley as the largest one ever to be ignited.
I figured out where I could safely set up my camera gear when the shooting began then I hung around with the crew as they suited up and sprayed water around the fireworks to prevent fires.
Boggs and volunteer Julie Garza sat down behind the board, hooked up a battery, and ran through the procedure to ignite each firework. Boggs would tap on Garza’s leg when she wanted the next shell to go in the air and Garza would push the next button in sequence. Boggs was listening to a radio broadcast of patriotic music she had designed the show around.
I set up my camera with a wide angle lens to a tripod and pointed it at the big shell. I knew I was too close to get the explosion in the air but I wanted to show the ignition and the barrel it was coming from. I had the exposure on manual, ISO set to 640, and the lens on f/8 with a 15 second exposure. From shooting fireworks before, I knew those settings would get me close as the shell would take off, flames illuminating the area around.
I heard Boggs give a 15 second countdown and I waited about 12 seconds before hitting the shutter. But when the shell was supposed to fire, the electric board went dark – no power. Boggs quickly reset the board and connections and shot the shell. I still had enough time in the exposure to capture the ignition and a few streams of light from the explosion of the shell. I will say it was very loud even with ear plugs in. It also reverberated through my chest, not as much as I’ve felt with a drag racecar engine or next to a lion when it roars but it still got my adrenaline going.
After that, it was a matter of trying to get the framing right to include fireworks taking off from tubes in the foreground and then exploding in the air above. I was hoping to include a crew member and one frame had Boggs’ cousin Garret in it.
I wanted to include a photo of the empty park too so after about five minutes into the program I ran with my gear to a spot I had scouted out earlier with an empty picnic table across from the lagoon.
I experimented with my settings, wanting to get the park illuminated with fireworks in the air and the full moon in the distance. This one worked out at ISO 800, f/18 and 20 seconds of exposure.
I always try to shoot the finale but it doesn’t work out with just too many things going off and blowing out the exposure. I suppose I could shoot at a much lower ISO and that may work. I’ll try it another time.
I hung around while the crew gathered and celebrated the show.
It was wonderful to get to experience the show from ground zero but like other high intensity subjects, I’m so concentrated on staying safe and getting good images that I don’t have time to completely enjoy where I’m at and what’s going on around me.