Thunder Over Louisville, is the annual kickoff event of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The event is an airshow and fireworks display in Louisville, Kentucky. It is held each April, two weeks before the first Saturday in May, which is the day the Kentucky Derby takes place.
The fireworks display is the largest annual fireworks display in North America and started in its current location along the Ohio River in 1991 with fireworks, and the annual air show was added in 1992.
The fireworks show starts at 9:30 PM, along with a synchronized soundtrack through PA and radio. An average of 625,000 people have attended each year since 1997, lining the banks of the river in Louisville, and across the river in Jeffersonville and Clarksville, Indiana.
Just before sunset eight 400-foot barges are towed into place on both the east and west sides of the Clark Memorial Bridge launch the fireworks, provided by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, more fireworks are sent up from the bridge, as well as spectacular streams of fireworks cascading from the bridge deck, that symbolize Louisville’s location at the Falls of the Ohio River. The display goes on for nearly 30 minutes before culminating with a grand finale that creates the sounds of rolling thumder for several minutes.
I have been attending and photographing the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show, since it began in 1991, from the Louisville waterfront. In 2018 I went across the river from Louisville and shot from a location beneath the John F. Kennedy Bridge and Abraham Lincoln Bridge on the riverbank in Jeffersonville, Indiana. I chose this spot because it allowed me to frame the scene with the Kennedy bridge overhead, the Louisville waterfront in the background and the silhouettes of the people in the foreground on the Jeffersonville, Indiana river bank.
I shot this year using a Nikon D7000 on a tripod using a cable release with the camera set to Aperture Priority and the bulb setting. Instead of determining a shiutter speed in advance I used a trial and error approach that included me counting down the seconds that I held the shutter open. I set the ISO to 100 and varied the aperture from f14 to f4; ultimately I settled on f6.3 which allowed me to use around 1.5 to 3 second exposures though a few times I used 15 to 30 seconds. When I saw, after a few test frames, that everything from five to fifteen seconds captured my vision for the scene; I simply adjusted the length of time based on my feeling for the amount of light that the moment called for. Though not very scientific but I found this method worked exceptionally well and allowed me to capture many more usable images than I had over the years of photographing fireworks.