Firework Extravaganza – Sherborne Castle Lake (2013)

Anyone who can remember my post about this event in 2012, may be surprised to see another post on 2013’s event.  The reason is that I received an offer that I couldn’t refuse.  Neil Fairclough, the pyrotechnic expert who has run this display for many years had noticed my blog post from a couple of years ago, and asked whether I would be interested in attending again, with an offer of a tour ‘behind the scenes’.  After reading last year’s post, he also offered complimentary tickets, and to ensure that I didn’t have the same experience this year.  The decision was made, with the sincere hope that I could get some photos that were at least as good as last year.

I was also invited to take a friend along.  Garry, and his wife Janet were keen to come along so arrangements were duly made.  This all happened last November 9th, 2013, so I must apologise for it having taken so long to produce a post on the event. I won’t bore you with the usual excuses.

This is quite a long post with a lot of photos, best viewed as slideshows by clicking on the first in each series and then scrolling through them.  I hope that your stamina holds out.  Some of the photos are captioned, but I hope that most are self explanatory.

We started by meeting Neil and other members of the Pyrotechnic Display team on the Saturday morning.  The first job was to find a suitable spot from which to view and photograph the display.  Previously, I had been in the front row of the viewing ‘crowd’, with the inevitable degree of jostling from children keen to get a good view.  To overcome this, and the previous year’s problem of getting a clear view of the display, our privileged position this year, enabled us to move out of the ‘public’ area into a position on the water’s edge in the woods, just to the right of the public enclosure.  Another member of the team, Rob Wallis, was to take charge of getting us into our chosen position in the evening, without causing too much trouble with the public.  So far, it all looked good.  The following two photos demonstrate the view from this position during the morning daylight.  The vans in the distance are parked in the general area from which the fireworks would be ‘set off’.

Neil then took us around the lake, to the display area.  We were introduced to Steve Martin, who owned the ‘SM Art Pyrotechnics’ company from Salisbury, and were then shown the whole process of setting up the display.  I’m afraid that it is difficult for me to recall all of the information that we were given.  I should have taken a voice recorder.

We were also able to wander around the site at will, so the first few shots are really to show the area in which the pyrotechnics were being set up.  A couple of the shots show the pile of wooden pallets on the hill, which were to become the bonfire, lit half an hour before the firework display.  It is lit by remote means and we did spot what the local fire brigade would call ‘cans of accelerant’, which were to be poured on the pallets before lighting.  I also understand that they often incorporate a few ‘duds’ from previous displays into the bonfire, to add a little extra sparkle.

Basically, the vans that can be seen in the next series of photos are, or were before they started setting up, chock full of fireworks.  That’s quite a load of explosives, and immediately raises the subject of public indemnity insurance and fire safety.  These subjects are taken very seriously by the event organisers.

All the fireworks are electronically fired and controlled wirelessly from the other side of the lake.  The ‘high flying’ fireworks are fired from ‘mortar tubes’ of varying diameters.  They don’t use ‘rockets’ in these displays anymore.  By the van, can be seen some of the ‘combined’ sequential fireworks, a bit like what the public can buy, but much bigger.

Setting up this show is necessarily a pretty intensive few hours, on the day of the display.  A team of several pyrotechnic technicians was involved, placing the fireworks and mortars, and wiring the fuses to the controllers.  To us, it looked pretty chaotic, with wires strewn everywhere.  We certainly needed to watch where we were putting our feet.  It was obvious though, that the team knew exactly what they were doing and that the apparent chaos was superficial.  In fact, it was a very professional job.

The gazebos, tarpaulins and polythene sheet were all necessary because the weather was a little changeable, with showers threatening at any time.

After getting a good view of the setup process, we went home for lunch, then to return to watch the display in the evening.  Happily, there would be no need to get there at 5:00 pm to guard a space for our tripods this year.

Since we had arrived with some time to spare, we decided to have a look at the live music stage before making our way to our viewing spot for the display.  The band was called ‘Headland‘, and I must say that they were pretty good, especially considering the cold which must have numbed their fingers.  The ‘Wicked Queen’, from a local performance of ‘Snow White’ at the Octagon, Yeovil, lit the bonfire at 7:00 pm and the last rather blurry shot in the next group is of her.

Finally, we get to the images of the firework display.  I had hoped that they would be better than those that I took last year, but alas, they are not.  I based my exposure on the shots from 2012 but then forgot to reset my ISO correctly with the result that highlights have generally been ‘burned out’.  Sorry Neil!

If you have survived this marathon post, then thank you.  I promise not to make a habit of posts that run to this length.  I hope that you did find the time to view each group of images as a ‘slideshow’ by clicking on the first and then scrolling through the gallery.

If I get a chance to, then I would very much like to photograph the display again this November, but from a completely different angle.  I’m not sure whether this will be possible though.

Thanks for visiting and please keep an eye open for future, much shorter, posts.


12 thoughts on “Firework Extravaganza – Sherborne Castle Lake (2013)

  1. Well done Dave! I know you’re worried about the highlights but this is technically very demanding isn’t it? I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I’ve not tried photographing fireworks so I’ve very much enjoyed seeing your pictures. As for the ISO thing, we’ve all done it.


    • Thank you Adrian. It was just frustrating. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and then did it wrong. I must admit, that working in the dark and with little time to make adjustments after the display kicks off, doesn’t help. I also lost a battery in the dark, which really annoyed me. I’m glad you enjoyed the show.


    • Thanks M. If you can get a good spot, and work in the dark, it’s actually very easy. You do need to get it right first time though as there isn’t much time for fiddling with camera settings.


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