Fireworks From A Different View

So I figure anyone can take pictures of fireworks exploding and making pretty lights in the sky (says the guy who’s never actually done it.) I thought I’d add a few Independance Day-themed fireworks pictures from the other side of the story – manufacturing them.

I have a relative who is a licensed pyro and has been making his own firework shells for decades. He taught me the basics of it many years ago too, but it’s an expensive hobby and one I never chose to pursue on my own. Still I was grateful for the opportunity. Recently he was teaching his son-in-law and nephews the finer art of shell construction, and I was on hand with a camera for some of the process.


f/5, 1/160, ISO-800, 41mm

That big cylinder is the shell where are the fun stuff is packed in. The key at this point is to make sure that the package is strong enough to withstand the explosive pressures that will be happening inside it. Part of this process is to tightly wind string around the outside in both directions – longitudinal andĀ latitudinal. It takes careful attention and quite a degree of stamina. It’s more exhaustive than it looks.

Photographically-speaking, I was inside a dark barn, and the day was blazing bright outside, making for an interesting challenge to get exposures that were meaningful.

Careful Work

f/5, 1/80, ISO-800, 45mm

After the stringing is done, it’s helpful to have an extra pair of hands to tie it off without losing the tension.


f/5, 1/25, ISO-800, 41mm

My brother-in-law doesn’t just make his own shells. He actually makes much of his own ingredients. His barn is quite the kitchen of recipes designed to get carefully controlled explosions and colors.


f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-800, 49mm

My other nephew is taking his turn at stringing his own shell.


f/5, 1/20, ISO-800, 23mm

The work of getting the shell strung properly is tiring and the day was 100+ degrees in a barn with no breeze. Hot work!

Holding The Knot

f/5, 1/100, ISO-800, 39mm

Another shell is just getting started. Holding down the initial knot before stringing it tightly.


f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-800, 48mm

This tight pattern is much of what gives a shell its strength. When it is lit, it will leave its mortar with 300 g-forces, so it needs to be incredibly strong for being composed of nothing more than paper and string.


f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-800, 55mm

After the stringing is complete, the shell is wrapped in another later of paper and taped off. Heavy cardboard ends are fitted on an taped again until it is a solid, strong mass.

Blasting Machine

f/9, 1/15, ISO-800, 33mm

There are many ways to light these shells. Due to the hazards involved, actually touching a fire to a fuse is not often done anymore. The preferred method of ignition is electrical, but with electrical there is always the possibility that the battery will die or whatever electrical source is available will not function properly. My brother-in-law always keeps this handy little toy on hand for just such an emergency. A genuine WWII blasting machine. You twist the black handle vigorously and it sends a sufficient electrical charge through the leads on the left side. Simply attach a wire to those leads and to the fuse of the shell, and your shell will be launched in no time. So make sure the wires are very, very long.

5 thoughts on “Fireworks From A Different View

    • Thanks! I wish I’d been able to get there a bit earlier (and stay a bit longer) to get a more complete story, but on the other hand I was practically a puddle in that heat as it was!

  1. Thank you for the different perspective! Now I wish I could see what comes between this and what we see in the sky. I mean, what does this look like set up and exploding?

    • A few years ago there were a lot more opportunities for interesting shots setting off the shells, but not so much any more. The people sit several tens of yards or more from the shell and throw a switch. That’s about it. Otherwise it’s about as interesting as watching an electrician repair your toaster :)

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