Fireworks launched from ONEOK Freedom Fest line the Tulsa skyline and are reflected in the Arkansas River on July 4, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

My Independence Night was anything but relaxing, but that’s just fine for me, I had a blast (sorry). It started with a Tulsa Drillers minor league baseball game, at 7:05. I literally had time to shoot one inning of action before having to transmit, get back in the car, drive 10 miles, navigate Tulsa’s interstate detours I still don’t understand, sweet-talk my way past roadblocks and $5 parking lots and arrive at one of the River Parks FreedomFest locations on the west side of the city. I had about 20 minutes to make pictures and transmit before having to navigate more roadblocks, detours, find a parking spot, walk 1/2 mile carrying all my gear and setup to actually shoot the fireworks.

This first frame ran on A1, and was photographed from the 71st Street bridge, five miles south of the launch location. I spent a few hours earlier in the day scouting out potential locations and decided to take a risk with this location. I say risk because I couldn’t find anyone who had shot, or even thought of shooting, from that far away. I did as much planning as I could, from double-checking maps, lines of sight, and even topography to make sure I’d have a clear view. Everything checked out. Just to be certain and cover my bases, I also rehearsed a backup plan, down to timing myself walking and driving to a new location if for whatever reason the bridge wouldn’t work.

It’s a fair point to want to include people in a fireworks shot, but I wanted to go for the most impact and found a pretty sweet vantage point to include Tulsa’s skyline, the Arkansas River and the fireworks themselves. Additionally, I shot feature photos at the festival park, which we packaged together on A1 with the fireworks shot.

I used a 300mm lens on a 5DMkII for most of the fireworks shots. For some I added a 1.4x teleconverter for extra reach. With two-to-three second long exposures, even on a heavy duty Manfrotto video tripod, there was some slight shake when cars would go by on the bridge. Obviously this didn’t affect all exposures as traffic was non-existent at times. Still, it was a minor hiccup I had to deal with and should have foreseen. It wasn’t noticeable to my body, but with exposures that long at 420mm, the slightest movement will show up.

Here’s a wide angle of the view from the bridge, taken with a normal 35mm lens.

ONEOK FreedomFest presented by River Parks, July 4, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

ONEOK FreedomFest presented by River Parks, July 4, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Cassidy Blackshare, 8, dances competes in a dance contest with bubbles inside a tent at ONEOK FreedomFest on July 4, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

The real fun this holiday weekend (Sunday night, actually) was spending an afternoon and evening with new friends and relatives of the family I’m renting a room from this summer. We had a huge barbecue, pool party, and of course tons of backyard fireworks. Great people, great fun.


  1. Hey Jeff, Great 4th shots. I found the perfect spot last year and you may want to use it next year if you are wanting a little easier place to shoot from. Where I-44 crosses riverside there is a dirt hill that runs under I-44 on the west side of riverside, you can simply walk down it and then you have massive sandbars to your right with tons of flat areas to shoot from. This was my second time shooting this area and I love it! I strapped a 200mm f2.0 IS on my Canon 5D MKII and it’s as far zoomed in as you’d care to get so it’s quite a bit closer. Here’s a link to a few of the shots. Hope that makes it easier for you in the future. There’s easy parking just north of the I-44 exit so it’s a piece of cake to get down there. The traffic is never bad either since no one knows about this place.