July 4th Fireworks in New York City
This year, since July 4th fell on a Wednesday, it seemed the perfect opportunity for a long weekend trip. And, since a trip means photo opportunities, I wanted to choose a great place to photograph fireworks. The choice was easy – New York City, of course! Macy’s presents the largest fireworks display in the country every year. Done deal, NYC here we come!
A big part of what separates a true photographer from anyone with a cell phone is the thought and planning that is necessary well in advance of the actual shoot. What do you want the photo to be of? What will be in the foreground and the background? What would be the best perspective and angle to shoot the photo from? What is going to happen during the shoot and how will that affect the photos? A good photographer will have these things all planned out well before ever arriving on the site.
In this case, the obvious answer to the question of “what is in the image” is fireworks, of course. But I also wanted the New York City skyline in the background and the river in the foreground. That leaves two options: shoot from Brooklyn or Queens on the East side of the East River, or from the Hoboken, New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Since the Macy’s barges will be launching the fireworks from the Hudson River, that may seem like a no-brainer. However, having shot fireworks many times in the past, I know that there is more to the planning than that.
After the first few blasts of fireworks, the sky begins to fill with smoke from the burning pyrotechnics. When that happens, if you are trying to include something in the background, the smoke will cloud the background from view. The city of New York is on the island of Manhattan, which is a long but skinny island. The Empire State Building is pretty much right in the middle of the city. It can be clearly seen from either the Hudson River on the West or the East River on the East side of the city. From the East River, the fireworks would be behind the Empire State Building. From the Hudson, they would be in front of the ESB and the whole skyline.
From the East River, the buildings in the skyline would block all of the lower exploding fireworks and only those that popped high in the sky could be seen. However, the smoke they create would not cause any problems by blocking the skyline view. The best perspective from that side of the city would be an elevated location. The higher up, the better. Unfortunately there are few hotels along the East River in Queens directly across from the ESB. In the little town of Weehawken just north of Hoboken, however, there happens to be a Sheraton Hotel right on the riverbank. Two days before the 4th, the price for unbooked rooms dropped by over $100 per night, so the decision to have a hotel room with photo gear, adult beverages and air conditioning within 50 yards of the riverbank was pretty much made for us.
The perspective was not perfect since we were on the ground level, and yes the smoke got in the way. But given the circumstances I was satisfied with the outcome. We had plenty of fun during the celebration and when it was all over and everyone else was fighting crowds to get home, it was a quick elevator ride to a comfy bed. A little planning paid off.