Winter Fireworks: An Easier Way

Winter Fireworks: An Easier Way

By: Matthew Kleinmann

I have shot a lot of wintertime fireworks shows.  All of them were on New Year's Eve, and they were at venues where people are naturally outdoors anyway.  That would be ski resorts.  There was not much difference between these shows and a summertime show except everything is a lot more miserable in the cold, wet, and snow.


Last night I was thinking that if I did not work this New Year's Eve that it might be nice to put on a show in our back yard.  I have not done a back yard display in a long time.  That got me thinking that our kitchen has pretty much an all glass wall overlooking the yard.  It would be nice if our guests and even me and my crew could all enjoy the festivities from inside the house.


That gave me a few ideas that I thought would be worth sharing with you.


The first one is, unlike a summertime show, for most of your aerial effects, go small.  That sounds really counter intuitive but think about this for a minute.  If you are looking out the window, how much of the sky in the proximity in front of the window can you see?  Not much.  Smaller areal effects that burst lower will stay within that viewshed.  


The second one is along the same lines, use lots of ground effects.  Even better if you take the time to build up some stands or rigging.  You might even get creative and mix the stands and festive holiday lights.  I can picture say a stand that looks like a candle that is wrapped with pretty LED lights and an array of fountains to make the candle “flame”.  The more artsy-craftsy among you could probably think of all kinds of things to do with those bent wire yard ornaments they sell in shapes like santa's sleigh and his reindeer.


When I thought of this idea for a winter show I also figured that it would all be electronically fired.  I figured that I could go up to the master bedroom that has a window that overlooks the backyard and from there I could clearly see all the stands and rigging, and also in general you get a better signal when the transmitter is higher than the receivers.  I would get a good view of the entire field that is essential for safety when e firing and I would get a hot signal to the remote modules.  Snow tends to attenuate the signals and batteries don’t perform as well in the cold, so even though I know the range of my wireless system in a level field in the summer, I am much more conservative with distances in the winter.


The other thing I figured that I would do, and this is not something the pros generally get to do, but that is to set it up in the daylight.  Why don’t the pros do that?  It is a simple matter of economics.  No one is going to pay you to set up in the sun and then sit around all night until shoot time.  And not to sound callous, but I don’t like being on site unless I am being paid.  So, we get to set up in the cold and dark.


A home show in the winter is a whole different animal, though.  You can go out in the daylight and set things up and just sit back and wait until shoot time.  A few minutes before shoot time you run out and arm all of your remote boxes for the firing system, verify you still have continuity on all the channels and head back inside.

I can pass along a few pro tips if you are going to let the show sit out and the weather is dubious.  This makes a mess but pros use a lot of aluminum foil and plastic  You can put cakes up on chunks of plywood to keep them out of the snow.  Many of them are already sealed on the top with thin foil.  Leave that right in place (sometimes in the summer we cut that off to make cleanup easier) but in the winter, leave it right on.  You can slip inexpensive sandwich baggies over the ends of mortar tubes.  Foil will work here as well.   You don’t need to remove these before firing.  If you have a ground effect or stand with a lot of devices on it, you can drape a tarp over it or some greenhouse plastic and when you go out to arm the firing system you (and a friend) can carefully pull the tarp or plastic off and drag it aside.


After that it is just a matter of heading up to your good vantage point, waiting for your audience to get into the room they are going to be viewing in, and pressing the buttons.  After the show all I would worry about would be fetching my firing system.  The rest can wait for the daylight.


Winter shows are a lot of fun.  And it may just be me, but it seems the sky gets so much darker in the winter, and if there is snow on the ground the way it reflects back up into the sky just adds to the effect.


If you are thinking about a winter show this would be the year to do it.  I see Mess’s has a crazy sale on gift cards.  Buy a $100 card and get $125 on it, and they have assured me that there is no time limit or account servicing fees, and you can use the gift card on anything, including other sales they might have.  How can you lose?

Matthew Kleinmann  Is a professional, licensed pyrotechnician and a staff writer for Mess’s Fireworks.