If you like warm, springlike weather, this weekend was perfect. After drizzle on Sunday morning, the skies cleared, and temperatures soared into the mid-60s for the celebration of Williamsburg’s annual Grand Illumination, a tradition that kicks off the holiday season on the first Sunday in December. The evening-long celebration combines the 18th-century tradition of illuminations, and commemorates military victories and sovereigns' birthdays with modern American holiday traditions.
The event began in 1934 with the placement of holiday candles in windows during the restoration of 18th-century Williamsburg. Today, several hours of music and the burning of fatwood in cressets throughout the Historic Area culminates with three simultaneous fireworks shows and a torch-lit march by the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums.
This was my first visit to Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination. To photograph the fireworks, I chose Palace Green as my location, with the Governor’s Palace as the backdrop. I decided to use the same camera settings I use when I shoot D.C.'s fireworks but with a slight increase in exposure time to make sure I captured the plentiful ground fireworks with the overhead shell bursts in the same frame.
I ran two cameras on tripods: One camera (Sony a99II) was set at f/14, ISO 200 and 10 seconds exposures, and the second camera (Sony a7rII) was set the same but at f/18. I locked down the shutter release cables on both cameras for automatic, repetitive shooting while I sat back and watched the show.
I was very happy with how the photos turned out, and I was also extremely impressed with the fireworks at Grand Illumination. It was a fun show!
There is a lot more to the Grand Illumination than just fireworks, however. I attended and photographed many of the evening’s events, which included various musical performances, storytelling, lighting of torches and cressets, ice skating, marching, and fife and drum performances. Photos from my trip have been included in this post.
I go to Williamsburg several times a year — my son attends the College of William & Mary — and I can confidently say this was one of my favorite trips to the colonial city, ranking right up there with the time I visited to photograph the Great Williamsburg blizzard of 2017.
And if you plan to attend Grand Illumination in the future, don’t count on temperatures in the mid-60s. The weather this year was very unusual. But always count on a great show!
If you’ve attended Grand Illumination, let us know your favorite part.