Boston July 4th holiday

We had planned to be in Boston for July 4th to be with Donald and Sophie. Diana came in from New York. We flew in from Jacksonville and got a hotel room in Burlington which was about 15 miles north of the city, and it was a haul to get out there. Luckily with the holiday traffic was “mild,” but roads in Boston are a mess, much worse than Montréal (if that is possible) with no logic to the streets. I guess they were all laid out by randomly walking around because nothing is straight, and there are few street signs. Even the GPS was confused. But the potholes and road conditions were the worst I have seen, it looked like a war zone. We stayed at a Summerfield Suites in a big two bedroom suite with full kitchen for $199 a night, which was quite decent for Boston for the holiday weekend. Our itinerary for the holiday: USS Constitution, Boston Pops pre-concert, New England Aquarium, July 4th Fireworks, the Burlington Mall, Costco (college kids go here for food shopping), and the movie WALL-E.

Getting around in Boston is not that easy. Traffic is a mess and parking is expensive. A full day in Cambridge is $22 and downtown it is about $30. Since Donald lives on the MIT campus, we decided it would be easier to park in Cambridge near Kimball Square (behind Legal Seafood) and take the T downtown. Plus due to the holiday concerts and fireworks, several of the roads were closed, which added more confusion to an otherwise impossible situation.

USS Constitution This was always one of my favorite tall ships and I was so excited to be coming here for the first time. When we arrived the lines were decent. There is a security checkpoint and full airport style inspection before entering the ship. I immediately noticed the small crane at the front and the ship looked almost naked. It is in mid-process of restoration with most of the masts disassembled, a missing bowsprit, and a rear deck reconstruction going on. So most of the rigging was down and the tops of the masts and yardarms were all taken down. I was bummed out about that. We took the tour and went down to the decks below, more restoration going on all over the ship. I’m sure it will look marvelous when they are finished.


Boston Pops Hatch Shell Concert This is the classic pre-concert on July 3 before the big one on the 4th. We arrived 4 hours early to get a seat and the place was already packed. The area we entered was secured and there was a full inspection of bags before entering. We picked our spot and waited. At around 6:45 an announcer came on and told us there was a front approaching and that we had better seek shelter in the nearby tunnel. We decided to wait it out and huddle under the umbrellas. At around 7:15 the rain and wind came and we stayed tight. We also took advantage of the fact that a lot of people ran for cover so we conveniently moved our spot closer to the stage and we were just in front of one of the camera stations. The rain finally ended at around 7:30 and we settled in for the concert which was to begin at 10:00. It was a long wait.

We heard the Boston Pops play a selection of Leonard Bernstein tunes. Then after a brief intermission, Rascal Flatts played with the Pops until the grand finale. Its funny Donald’s friends never heard of Leonard Bernstein, I never heard of Rascal Flatts. But we all recognized the music. Now unbeknown to us we were positioned right in front of the confetti machine. At the end of the concert with the Stars and Stripes in the background, the machine started up and the paper was flying.


New England Aquarium Ok if you really want a challenging day of photography go to the New England Aquarium to shoot the jellyfish, then follow up with some night shooting of the July 4th fireworks in Boston Harbor. Both locations perfect for some outstanding and challenging photography.

Walking into the aquarium it was dark, very dark. I forgot about that. The tanks are lit but you are still shooting at ISO 1250 – 1600 and f4 or wide open at 2.8. I had my 100mm macro, 70-200, and 24-70. The next challenge is you realize these things are moving No fish is going to stop and pose for you! Plus, since we were there on July 4th, the place was packed with kids and parents chasing their kids. So we did the best that we could.

The aquarium shots of the fish were a disaster. Everything blurry, you cannot stop action at 1/40 sec. I did better with the anemones, but again with available light your are not going to get any DOF or freeze any action. There was a large area with penguins and they were being fed. These guys are comical, but there is always something sad about animals in captivity.

Jellyfish are one of my favorite subjects. The Atlantic Sea Nettle tank was backlit with a fluorescent blue with some spot lighting. These large animals were floating and moving around, it was mesmerizing just to watch. The tank is quite large so it was easy to get into position for a front, top, and bottom view. I was using my macro and enjoying the view through the lens. I was trying to get a good single portrait, a detail, and then a composition with two or more animals. The last proved the most challenging.


Fireworks We made our way to the Harvard Bridge which is where Mass Ave crosses into the MIT campus. We arrived at 6:00 PM (fireworks at 10:00 PM) but people were already lining up. We were lucky to find a good spot on the bridge right up against the rail. I set up the tripod and started shooting some skyline pictures as the sun started to go down. As people started to pack in, a lady just rolled out her mat right under my tripod and sat down. People seem to be very aggressive in Boston…we experienced a lot of this at the Pops concert, people very territorial and rude in claiming their viewing “spot.” It was clear that this lady was not going to move, and I asked her to not kick the leg on my tripod. The river was full of boats of all kinds…it was a fun scene.

At around 8:00 the concert began, it was essentially the same concert as the one we attended yesterday. There were speakers set up on the bridge to broadcast the music. At the end of the 1812 Overture (halfway through) there was a fireworks teaser. The real show did not start until around 10:00.

I noticed that the wind had completely died which is not a good thing for fireworks, as the smoke tends to linger over the launch zone, covering the subsequent explosions. This proved to be the case…the show started shortly after 10:00 and the first few fireworks were clean and the smoke started to build. I started at ISO 100, f8 on bulb for a 2-4 sec exposure. Progressively the images started to look blown out in the LCD so I went to f9, 10, and 11. I ended up still being at least 2 stops overexposed. In the excitement I was not checking the histogram, which is certainly what one should ALWAYS do because you never can trust the LCD.

The fireworks were breathtaking and with the music and people it was a very emotional experience. Part of me just wanted to watch and not fuss with the camera. There were all kinds of special effects that I had never seen before. Out of about 60 exposures I rescued a few. Good thing I was shooting RAW so I could at least get 2 stops of exposure adjustment, but the smoke really obscured the view. At the end of the show there was a mass of humanity leaving…they say over 500,000 crowd the banks to watch, I believe that. Everyone was hungry so we decided to go to IHOP which was a drive. By the time we got back to the hotel with was 2 AM…what a day!

Link to Boston gallery