"How do you shoot a fireworks show?" Every day, people walk into our store in Columbia and ask us this question. Even if you're a total beginner, shooting a show is easy with some planning. Knowing how and where to set up the show is critical.
A good fireworks show will start with Saturn Missiles for grabbing the audience's attention, then on to a 500 gram multi shot shell, for a first taste of the larger stuff, then mellower with Battery Barrage which offers quieter, glittering effect, then a few larger mortars with three Excaliburs, then quieter with Flicker, and then some unexpected combinations with multi-shots and fountains, and so on.
As you can see the show is like a rollercoaster ride, moving up and down, changing constantly.
STEP 1: SAFETY
STEP 2: FIND A LAUNCH SITE LOCATION
STEP 3: PLAN YOUR FINALE
STEP 4: BASES FOR YOUR FIREWORKS
STEP 5: TIME YOUR FINALE
STEP 6: FIRING THE SHOW
Finding a site with an unobstructed firing line is crucial. Naturally, you will want a site free of overhead wires, trees and far from buildings and other structures. The idea shooting surface is a level, grassy field, which absorbs the recoil of the fireworks, but an asphalt cul-de-sac works fine, too.
Plan your firing line and your crowd areas. Ideally, your crowd will be one and one-half times as far from the firing line as the highest firework you launch. For example, if your highest altitude firework goes to 120 feet, then the crowd should be 180 feet away from the fireworks. A firework that travels to this height will have an effect – or “break” – that is about 30 feet in diameter. The one and one-half rule is therefore a minimum safe distance for your crowd if you're firing straight up. Your crowd location should also be up wind from your firing line so that the firework debris fall behind the firing line and not toward the crowd. This is, of course, not always possible, so leeway should be made for the amount of wind on the day of the show. Have some people on hand to help you enforce the minimum safe distance. Wind is more dangerous than rain.
Save about one third of your budget for the finale. If you’re planning on a $600 show, then $200 of that amount will go towards your finale which will last anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. There’s a good reason for this: most people will remember the finale most of all when they talk about your show. They may mention other parts of your show, but what will stick in their minds is the very last part of the show and how they were floored by the number of fireworks in the sky.
Let’s say you have a 25 second cake, followed by a 30 seconds cake, then a 20 seconds cake. I would light my first piece and 8 seconds before that ends (i.e. at the 17 second mark), I would light the second piece. Then 8 seconds before that 2nd piece ends (i.e. at the 47 sec. mark of the show), I would light the third piece. I usually prepare a firing sheet with all the time stamps for lighting the pieces in order. I then use a smartphone timer app as a stopwatch to launch at the right times. This method will have the advantage of creating an uninterrupted show for your audience and adds a huge level of professionalism.
This is it; the entire show has brought you to this moment. A great finale lights up the sky at all levels and will be the highlight of the evening. Filing the sky is the secret to a great finale. While your goal for the main show was tyo switch types, altitudes, colours, etc. to keep the crowd's eye moving, the finale is where you throw everything together. Mixing comets and stars with tails with bursts at different altitudes is one of the best ways of doing this. I usually accomplish this with cakes that fire comets from 1 or 2 firing points, coupled with cakes that fire mid and high bursts from all stations.
Some fireworks have a plastic base, as is the case for mortars and mines, but all of them have clay at the bottom of the firework tubes. This clay provides the resistance to the explosion that ensures the firework flies up and out of the top of the tube instead of bursting out the bottom. You can take advantage of this clay base to mount your fireworks to boards. I have specially built boards that are made of 5/8 inch plywood. They are cut to two feet wide by 8 feet long. I have screwed some 2x4 pieces to the bottom to make them easy to pick up off the ground. All the fireworks are screwed into the board through the clay base of the cakes. Mortars and mines are screwed in by their plastic base.
Because your fireworks casings are strapped to boards and racks, carting away spent fireworks is a snap. But launching fireworks makes a mess, and it’s a pretty sad “manly man” who leaves a mess behind him. Bring a rake and garbage bag and rake up the the pieces of paper, cardboard and plastic that are the aftermath of a show. To help reduce the amount of debris, remove the top paper from all your firework pieces. Note that noise-making fireworks fire a plastic whistle into the air and are by far the messiest fireworks out there. Collect the plastic whistles after the show, or come back in the morning to pick them up leave the site as pristine as you found it.
STEP 7: CLEAN UP
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BEFORE YOU START
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
If you have a crowd full of adults celebrating New Year's Eve, your firework show will be very different than a show for a child's birthday party.