Disneyland Summer “Magical” Fireworks

Disneyland’s fireworks show varies by season. The main show is the incomparable “Remember… Dreams Come True!,” which is a montage of memorable lines from Disneyland attractions. For people like me who are primarily Disney theme park fans, this show is great because it focuses on the parks as opposed to animation. There are also seasonal Halloween and Christmas seasonal shows, and then there’s “Magical,” the summer show. “Magical” doesn’t really have anything to do with summer, and most Disneyland fans regard it as inferior to “Remember… Dreams Come True!” I agree with that, which makes me wonder why Disneyland even bothers with it. On the plus side, it does feature Dumbo flying around Sleeping Beauty Castle and some pyro bursts that are more photogenic than the pyro in the other shows, but that’s about it.

In general, the fireworks at Disneyland are far less photogenic than those at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. This is because Disneyland is in the middle of Anaheim, so there are restrictions as to what type of bursts can be used, and where those can be fired. As a result, almost all of the large, distant bursts appear to the upper left of the Castle. Luckily, photographers can work around this by using longer exposures, but it does make for a less impressive show in person.

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This was also shot with my Nikon D700 and the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR lens. More importantly, I used my CHEAP-O® Vari-ND Filter. That’s actually just a name I made up for it, mostly because its real name isn’t that catchy. It’s a cheap foreign brand of variable neutral density filter that is probably very low quality. However, I am shocked by the quality of the fireworks photos I captured with this filter. The CHEAP-O® Vari-ND filter was only $15 (it’s only $13 now!), and it did quite well for fireworks photography, at least compared to what I expected from it. If all of this neutral density filter talk sounds like a foreign language to you, I highly suggest reading more about them in my ND filter buying guide. You will definitely find yourself wanting a neutral density filter after reading that!

As for posting processing here, I decreased the exposure, increased the recovery, increased the fill light, and did a curves adjustment. My goal with this was to reduce blown areas in the fireworks and also make them pop with more contrast and definition. A lot of the bursts here were the soft kind that only picked up faintly in the photo, and I wanted to emphasize them a bit more.

Of course, a fireworks photo post wouldn’t be complete without a plug for the fireworks photography eBook I co-authored, which is creatively titled, “How to Photograph Fireworks.” If you’re looking to up your fireworks photography game, this is the eBook for you!

Your Thoughts…

If you’re a Disneyland fan, how do you rank its fireworks shows? If you’re a photographer, are you a fireworks photography junkie? Even though I have hundreds of fireworks photos, I can’t resist photographing fireworks each time I see them. Share your thoughts on these questions…or on anything else…in the comments! One lucky commenter might star in a YouTube rap video with Big Bird!

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13 replies
  1. Megan Dyan
    Megan Dyan says:

    As always, love your photography. My photography knowledge is ZERO though, so mainly I enjoy all your Disney stuff. However, I was wondering – can we purchase prints of your photography??

  2. Spencer
    Spencer says:

    I’ve only been to Disneyland once, but while there my wife and I were underwhelmed by “Remember”. I much preferred World of Color, so we spent more of our evenings at DCA. This was odd to me because I love Wishes, so I expected the same at Disneyland. I think my problem was how blocked my sightlines seemed to be. The bigger trees make for a nice feel to the hub during the day, but at night, I felt like the trees were blocking me in. WDW has alot more prime viewing space for fireworks, probably at the cost of being less “intimate” feeling the rest of the time.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      To me, RDCT is more about the score and effects that accompany that score than “bombastic” fireworks. All of Disneyland’s fireworks shows are smaller than Magic Kingdom’s. If you’re a big fan of pyro, you’d probably be disappointed by RDCT.

      You’re also right about the trees, but I am glad Disney has not removed them. MK’s hub doesn’t look nearly as good with its trees gone.

  3. Tyler B
    Tyler B says:

    We were in Disneyland for 4 entire days in September (Monday thru Thursday) and did not see a single firework burst due to there being no shows during the week! This was extremely disappointing as we are frequent WDW guests. It felt weird to experience a Disney trip without fireworks. We loved Disneyland but this was something that made our trip a little… “less magical”.

    On another note…. just curious… how do you get a fancy picture to display when commenting on your blogs?

  4. Matthew Gottula
    Matthew Gottula says:

    Great shot!

    In my opinion, Believe… In Holiday Magic < Magical < Halloween Screams < Remember… Dreams Come True. Of course there are the 4th of July and New Years Eve shows too, but I don't rank them because they're done infrequently. I consider "Remember" to be the golden standard; it really is the best fireworks show they've ever done.

    About Disneyland fireworks being "far less photogenic" than WDW: it is true that there are fewer good pyro vantage points from far away in Anaheim (in Florida there's the Seven Seas Lagoon, etc). And it does bother me that the big shells are slightly left of the castle. But I saw Florida's Wishes show this past October, and I thought it was very weak. And their Tinker Bell is laughable compared to Disneyland's.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      If we’re just talking show quality, you’re absolutely right. If we’re talking how photogenic the shows are, only the pyro bursts come into play, and WDW wins.

      That said, even as a photographer, I’d take Disneyland’s shows over Wishes any day of the week. I do enjoy Holiday Wishes and HalloWishes, though! (Did you happen to see HalloWishes?)

  5. mitch
    mitch says:

    What’s the EXIF data for this photo? I’m learning how to take better fireworks shots and that will help me get a good frame of reference.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      You can find the EXIF data for any photo on this site by clicking the photo, then clicking “Show Details” at the top of the enlarged image, then clicking “Info.”

      Here’s the EXIF the page displays for this photo:

      Date Taken: 2012-06-16 21:42:02
      Exposure Time: 56s (56/1)
      Aperture: f/13
      ISO: 200
      Focal Length: 44mm (44mm in 35mm)

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