Great balls of fire – Stonehaven fireballs

Stonehaven Fireball ceremony

With no football for the next couple of weeks I decided to try something different and headed to Stonehaven to photograph the Stonehaven fireballs which greet the New Year, a unique event in Scotland. I like trying different types of photography and this was well outside my comfort zone. I went with my wife Ann and photographed it as a tourist from outside the barriers.

What it is: Stonehaven greets the New Year with approximately 40 men and women parading up and down the High Street while swinging flaming balls around their heads at midnight as the New Year starts.

We headed for the High Street at about 9.30pm and got a space on the barrier near the clock tower, from here we could see pretty much the whole route. It got busy after ten and was packed four or five deep right along the street well before midnight.

It was cold until they started on the stroke of midnight, wrap up if you go, I had on all the gear I’d wear while photographing football – It was quite warm after the parade started though, as sparks flew just inches away from the crowd. It’s not a very wide street and I can’t imagine this happening in a city but it’s great that it still happens in Stonehaven.

After they’ve paraded up and down the High Street for twenty minutes they throw the flaming balls into the harbour, it’s quite easy to get down there but don’t expect to see much of that if you’ve watched the parade, the harbour was absolutely packed.

Straight after the dowsing of the balls there was a very decent fireworks display from the hill across from the harbour.

Here’s some pics

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Below is ‘Oggy’, his family were standing around me and they gave him rousing cheers each time he passed, the pic is him pausing to greet them and wish them Happy New Year.

Stonehaven Fireball ceremony


Photographing the fireball procession: I’d intended using the Canon 50mm f1.2L to utilise as much light as possible but quickly found out that it doesn’t focus fast enough in low light to do that, fantastic lens for certain things but fireball parades ain’t one of them.

How I shot them: I used a Canon 1dx and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L lens, expect to use a high ISO, mine was between 1600 and 3200 and I used a bit of flash dialled down two stops to clean the pics up just a little bit, I tried out various settings on the volunteers etc. who were walking up and down the street before the parade started to find out what worked best. All were at f2.8 and most at 1/160th of a second. A couple had no flash and were at 1/500th second and ISO 20000.

Was I happy with the photos I got: Reasonably, it really is incredibly difficult to shoot, if I’d been inside the barriers I’d probably have done a fair bit of wide angle stuff, I’d probably have got hit with a flaming ball though.

Parking: We got there a bit before 9pm and parked in the square in the middle of town, we got one of the last few spaces there, when we drove out of town people were walking well up the road towards the A90 and there were lots of cars on the outskirts of town.

Eating: I doubt you’d get an indoor sit down meal without a prior reservation at the time we arrived, we certainly couldn’t – so fish and chips is probably the best option, we got ours from ‘The Carron’ – birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar, fish was excellent, chips a bit meh, it was OK though, I’d also recommend ‘The Bay’ on the front by the caravan park on the North side of ‘Stoney’ – we went there after a game at Pittodrie a couple of years ago and it was pricey but really good – 45 minute queue though!

Drinking: We didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink but there are plenty of pubs both in the centre (by the square) and down by the harbour – they were all busy but not absolutely mobbed – and all the ones we saw were open after the fireworks as we walked back to the car.

Is there other entertainment/ are there street stalls etc. while you wait?: There was a drum band and a Pipe band who played in the street in the hour or so before the parade started, nothing in the way of stalls etc. though takeaways, pubs and coffee shops are open around the area.

Is it worth going to see the fireballs ceremony: Yes, definitely, it has the feeling of a small town event but is really spectacular and it’s at pretty close quarters – the out of focus circles in the pic below are sparks and they are about a foot at most from the end of my lens.

Stonehaven Fireball ceremony

What does it cost?: There isn’t a charge but volunteers stand at the entrance of the street collecting donations, it’s well worth a fiver at least.