Behind the Curtain: Photographing Arlington Park's last Fourth of July fireworks show

  • Fireworks light the night sky during a show at Arlington Park on the eve of Independence Day.

    Fireworks light the night sky during a show at Arlington Park on the eve of Independence Day. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald photojournalist, Joe Lewnard

    Daily Herald photojournalist, Joe Lewnard

 
 
Updated 9/7/2021 8:23 PM

On the eve of Independence day, I was assigned to photograph what could be the last Fourth of July fireworks show at Arlington Park.

Barring a reprieve, the last day for horse racing at the track will be Sept. 25, and among the possibilities for the property is a Chicago Bears stadium.

 

I arrived early to scout out a location: My goal, at least for the early photos, was to have the iconic grandstand and fireworks in the same frame.

Setting up in the grassy area with other spectators and getting people in the photo was an option, but it was a beehive of activity and the rail running alongside the track would be visually distracting.

Near the first turn on the track, there is a support structure and a wide access point for horses to enter during workouts, and this proved to be an ideal, out-of-the-way location. I chose this area instead.

I set up the camera tripod and took several test frames as the sun set. I left a margin of error in regard to framing, since I didn't know exactly where the fireworks bursts would be, and I triple-checked the focus.

When showtime arrived, fireworks launched from an area near the scoreboard with bursts at a lower altitude, allowing me to achieve my goal of getting the grandstand and fireworks in the same frame. The frame presented here is a four-second exposure taken with a wide-angle lens.

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I selected this photo because I liked the blue and white colors of the fireworks and the subtle illumination of the grandstand.

Once I was satisfied with my photos that included the grandstand, I repositioned the tripod and camera to focus on the fireworks themselves, since more than one photo would be needed for publication in the next day's paper.

Whatever the future holds for the Arlington Park property, I hope that Fourth of July fireworks will continue to be a tradition.

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