How to Photograph Fireworks in Washington DC [2019 Update]

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5.31.19
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In this guide, I will show you all the best places to photograph the Washington DC Fourth of July 2019 fireworks.

President Trump has changed the launch location for the fireworks this year so we’ll discuss all the up-to-date information and suggest places to photograph them.

Plus if you have never photographed fireworks before, I’ll give you some of my top tips to make sure you get your best shot.

Let’s get crackin’… (pun intended)…

Independence Day

Independence day is the perfect excuse to enjoy the outdoors, eat some barbeque and show off your patriotism. Or stay home all day in the air conditioning and watch the 1996 movie, Independence Day with Will Smith. LOL Either way it’s my favorite summer holiday because I LOVE photographing the fireworks. They are always so beautiful and exciting to watch.

Since July is approaching quickly, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about where to shoot the fireworks around the National Mall and surrounding areas.

So here are the best places to shoot the fireworks in Washington DC with views of the memorials:

Views of the Washington Monument

Sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial is a location I discovered last year. I figured with the massive Washington DC firework attendance that it would be difficult to find a good spot in such a limited space between the Lincoln Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. But to my surprise, it didn’t turn out to be too bad. It helped that I was by myself shooting so I was able to squeeze into the second row along the edge of the reflecting pool. I was right in the center of the reflecting pool so it felt like the fireworks were taking off right in front of my face. I even felt shrapnel fall on me the entire time. It was so fun! LOL.

If the fireworks were going to be in the same location in 2019 as it has been in the past 15 years, then I would have 100% recommended this location as my number 1 pick.

Camera settings for these images (L) F5.6 at 1/10th of a second ISO 160 (R) F5.6 at 1 second ISO 160. Both captured with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm lens.

It’s funny the way that the city is laid out because while you’re walking around, you may not realize that the Washington Monument is actually on top of a little hill. I didn’t think it made that big of a difference for fireworks but sitting on the lawn around the Monument gives you a much lower perspective.

I captured this image in 2013 while the Washington Monument was still under construction. I figured the scaffolding could add some interest. To snag this spot, I got there 3-4 hours before the fireworks started but I was surprised that there was still plenty of room for a later arrival.

Had I gone a little further back and to the right a bit, I think it would have been nice to capture the fireworks directly behind the Washington Monument. Maybe something to consider in the future.

Fireworks on the National Mall

Camera settings for this image is F6.3 at 1 second and ISO 100

Here’s a quick little video to watch them in action:

From the United States Capitol

This could have turned out better. It was sort of a last minute decision to head to the US Capitol for fireworks images. We arrived about an hour before the fireworks were about to start.

So if you decide that this is where you want to be, I’d recommend going earlier than you think you should! Early so you can watch the full Capitol Fourth Show presented by PBS and get a better view of the Washington Monument. The Capitol Fourth show is pretty great if you like listening to live music.

But again, this area in front of the US Capitol has limited space. Getting prime viewing may be hard. As you can see, I could get a good view of the monument and fireworks, I just wish there wasn’t the stage and people competing for the firework’s attention.

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Camera settings for this image is F5.6 at 1 second and ISO 320

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Thankful to my friend, Jim who invited me to this location before the museum even opened to the public. I don’t think there will be another image like this without so many people in the foreground. It was a super cloudy Independence Day with on and off showers all afternoon into the early evening. Luckily there was a break in the rain and the fireworks were still able to go off. That is why they appear so small and low in this image.

The only reason why this image is in the guide is that this spot has the potential to be very cool on an evening with clear skies. I love how there are three elements all lined up, the NMAAHC, Washington Monument and fireworks. I also think the granite surface of the entryway to the museum makes for a potentially cool reflection (with or without rain).

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Camera settings for this image is F16 at 3 seconds and ISO 320. The exposure for this is a bit longer just because of how far away I am from the fireworks (light).

2019 Washington DC Firework Update

All the recommendations so far have been based around the fireworks taking off at the Washington Monument. I left them in for hopes in the future for them to return to this iconic location. It honestly a great location and I will miss it a lot.

But this year it has all changed. 

According to NBC Washington, for the first time in 15 years, the firework location is moving. President Trump has officially announced that it won’t be by the Washington Monument anymore but at West Potomac Park. It is just one mile away but this little change has made the perspective completely different. Especially if you still want to capture the Washington Monument and memorials.

Here’s a map of West Potomac Park so you can get a general idea of what we should be expecting:

Because of the move, it’s hard to say exactly where would be the best spot to photograph the fireworks since I’ve never photographed them from the new location. But I’m pretty sure you will find me somewhere along the Mount Vernon Trail this coming holiday.

A great spot to start is Theodore Roosevelt Island. If you walk about half a mile east, you’ll start seeing some great viewpoints of the memorials all lined up together. This vantage point could still possibly work. However, if you want a landmark, Lady Bird Johnson park may be your best bet to shoot from.

You could pack a picnic and go early for this one but, it is not completely necessary. There are so many places along the trail that offer great views of the fireworks that going early isn’t too much of a concern. However, the traffic along the George Washington Parkway can get pretty nuts. Especially once the fireworks get going, many cars stop to watch.

I tend to always take the metro for the fourth of July festivities. The traffic can be really bad and parking is a nightmare. To reduce stress, I would just hop on and off the Rosslyn metro station for this location.

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Camera settings for this image is F5.6 at 1 second and ISO 160

Photograph the Arlington, Virginia Fireworks

If you don’t even want to bother with the Washington DC firework, you can cross the river and head over to the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington VA. It’s a great alternative if you still want to photograph a memorial but don’t want to go into the city to do it. Again, I would go as early as you can. Try to make a day of it if you can. Like, pack lunch and dinner because I’ve seen some people wait there starting at 9 am. The only area available to sit and watch is the little grassy area by the apartments so go early if you want a good line up of the Iwo Jima memorial with the DC monuments.

Did I mention you should go early?

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Camera settings for this image is F/8 at 1 second and ISO 200

A Youtube video of what it was like photographing the fireworks at Iwo Jima.  Skip to 3:50 to see what it’s actually like.

Alternative Suggestions:

These are all the places that I have personally photographed in the Washington DC/Arlington Va areas for fireworks. But I am only one person that photographs the Independence day fireworks one night a year. So doing a little internet research, here are some alternative places you could go:

→ Who doesn’t love a good hotel rooftop to watch the Washington DC fireworks? Props to Washington.org for these suggestions:

And if rooftops are your thing, like they are mine, why not check out the Kennedy Center Terrace. I’m sure you can get some cool views from there.
*Just make sure you make you call these locations for ticketing or reservation information for these places.

→ See all the fireworks from the top of the hill at Cardozo High School (1200 Clifton Street NW). I’ve heard that this is the most panoramic view of all the fireworks in the city. It’s probably a really cool sight to see the skyline with multiple firework displays going off at once.

→ Since the fireworks are being launched at West Potomac Park, I think the Wharf or across the GW Parkway with views of the Wharf will be a very cool vantage point as well.

→ I may go out on a limb and even say the Navy-Merchant Memorial may look good too… don’t @ me if I’m wrong.

→ Don’t want to risk anything? The Potomac Riverboat Company will provide you with some awesome views and drinks from the water! Depending on which cruise you select, dinner is served as well.

Camera Settings to Capture Firework Images

And if you need a few tips on how to photograph the fireworks, here’s a little video I made in 2013 on how to do it. This is the exact way I have shot all these fireworks images in this guide. Even though I look like a baby in this video, all the same rules apply:

Here’s a quick synopsis of the video:

Camera Equipment: 

  • Camera with ‘bulb’ function
  • Shutter Release Remote. No Camera Shake!
    • my preference is a wired remote as opposed to wireless.
  • Tripod

Camera Settings: 

  • Low ISO (I usually set mine between 100-200)
  • Shutter Speed is Bulb
  • Aperture setting somewhere in the middle. I like F5.6 or F8

Bulb Settings: 

The bulb setting on your camera allows you to manually select your shutter speed for as long as you’re holding the shutter down.
In order to capture fireworks, I will wait for when the firework is about to explode. I immediately hit the camera remote and then wait for the fireworks to fall. That is when I’ll release the shutter. So basically my aperture is only open while the firework is in the sky. Not before or after.

If you can, try to practice sometime before the big show. You don’t want to be scrambling with your settings and miss all the fireworks.

I hope you found this Snap DC guide useful for photographing the Washington DC fireworks. With the new firework location this year, it still remains a little questionable as to the best location however this should give you a pretty good idea of the general location.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to leave it in the comments below. I’ll try my best to answer them.

For even more detailed photography suggestions of these firework locations, any time of the day, year or even how to get around Washington DC, check out my book, Snap DC: Your Guide to Taking Extraordinary Photos of the National Mall and Beyond… It was created for any level of photographer from mobile to DSLR, who wants to cut down the research time and spend their time out doing what they love- shooting.

Available on Amazon:

Snap DC: Your Guide to Taking Extraordinary Photos of the National Mall and Beyond...
  • Angela B Pan
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Edition no. 1 (04/26/2018)
  • Paperback: 210 pages

Hope you all have a fun and safe Independence Day! Happy Snapping!