How to Photograph Sparklers
Happy Monday! I can’t believe another week has gone by, but alas, here we are again!
I’m really excited about this week’s post, and I hope you will be too. It comes just in time for firework season and the 4th of July!
Question: Have you ever seen those picture where people ‘write’ or make designs with sparklers or another light source? Pretty cool huh?
Well, I thought it would be fun to create a tutorial on how to do this so you can impress all your friends and family this fourth of July with your snazzy camera tricks!
In order to get started, you’ll want to gather a few things:
1. Your camera
Pretty self explanatory. Can’t take pictures without your camera!
2. A tripod
A tripod is really going to help you with this fun photo shoot. As with all shoots, you don’t necessarily NEED a tripod, but you run the risk of extra camera shake due to the low light without one. If you don’t have one, try to either find something to rest your camera on (use the timer, more on that in a bit), or a wall to stand against.
A tip when taking pictures where camera shake is a possibility and you aren’t using a tripod: take a breath before hitting the shutter button. Hit the shutter button and wait for the shutter to close. Release breath. This helps reduce movement. Bet you didn’t know photography was also a stress reliever did you? *Don’t do this if you have a super long shutter speed!
3. Sparklers or another light source (be smart here, people!)
You’ll need sparklers to do this, or another source of light. I’ve seen lanterns, flashlights, phones, laser pointers, etc. Be smart and careful though, please (I know YOU are, I’m not talking about you). I’m not responsible for any damage/injuries/etc as a result of this project!
4. Low light conditions!
I like to do this at night when it’s completely dark, or if that’s too late (hey, the sun goes down around 9:15 now! That’s getting close to my bed time. Seriously.) then dusk. I like to see more of the sparkler writing versus the people in the picture, but if you want to see the people in the picture, then either pick an earlier time of day, or have alternate light source. Examples could be porch light, street light, etc.
5. Friends and/or family!
This really is a fun activity, and one that is perfect for summer nights. So grab your friends and family, and get going! For my project, my wonderful husband helped me out! We had a fun time making different shapes and words and just enjoying a wonderful summer evening.
Now that you have all your items gathered and ready to go, here are the steps to take fun and awesome sparkler pictures!
1. Mount your camera
Mount your camera onto your tripod, or whatever you are using. Make sure it’s secure!
2. Set your ISO to an appropriate level
As we talked about in this post on ISO, boosting your ISO can help elongate your shutter speed and aperture (more on shutter speed in a bit). Usually, for most night shots, you would want to choose a high ISO setting. However (and I'm going to completely contradict myself), for this shoot, I wanted to capture the motion of the light and I wasn’t worried about capturing any fine details. In fact, the more ‘smooth’ the light looked, the better! A big concern for me was that the pictures would come out grainy if I bumped my ISO up really high. Additionally, the only other reason I would bump my ISO to a high number would be to allow my camera a high shutter speed so that the shutter would stay open longer. However, I found that I didn’t need to do that after a few test pictures. Because of all these factors, I kept my ISO very low at 100.
I did play around with some test pictures first however, to come to this conclusion. I would encourage you to do the same!
3. Check your white balance
For this activity, I set my white balance on auto. I can always change this in post-editing if I need to.
4. Make sure your flash is off!
You DO NOT want your flash on for this project. You want the light source to come from the sparklers, and/or other light source you’re including.
5. Set your shutter speed to a long setting
A while ago we talked about shutter speed. See that post here if you need a refresher. Remember that shutter speed is measured in fractions, which correlate to the seconds your shutter stays open. The longer your shutter stays open, the more light gets in, and the more your camera captures movement. For this project, my shutter speeds were at 6 & 8 seconds. That gave my husband enough time to make the design, but not too long to let some of the extra light in to pollute the light from the sparklers.
6. Find your camera timer, and select a time
My camera timer is a button on the side of my camera. It kind of looks like a little clock. The timer allows me time to get me or my subjects situationed in front of the camera, and the sparklers lit. The timer will hit the shutter button for me so I don’t have to worry about doing it. It also helps reduce shake because I’m not actually pressing down on the camera to take the picture.
On some cameras, the timer option is within the menu settings. Check your camera manual if you are unsure where to find the timer.
My camera has three different timer options; 2 seconds, 10 seconds or 20 seconds. I chose 2 seconds since I had someone helping me make the sparkler designs. If I wanted to be in the picture, or if you just need time before the shutter starts, choose longer. Play around with what works for you and your subjects!
7. Watch Your Framing
If making shapes, writing words, or other designs, make sure to ‘make’ them small enough so that they fit in the camera viewfinder or screen. A few times my husband would make the designs too big, and they would get cut off. To help, he made visual notes based on me and the tripod I was using so he knew where he couldn’t go past. For example, he couldn’t go high than the top of the camera on the tripod. If you are doing this project with small kids, you may just want to make sure your camera is far enough away from them so that they have a lot of room to play around.
8. If writing words, make sure they are written 'backwards'
If you plan to write words, make sure that you write them backwards, otherwise you will end up with words like in the picture below. Oops!
9. Take pictures and have fun!
After you have all your settings selected, now it’s time to have some fun! Hit that shutter button, wait for the timer to click the shutter, Practice making shapes, writing words, whatever comes to mind. The possibilities are endless!
After your first couple of pictures, look at what you’ve captured and readjust your settings as needed. Do your pictures look grainy? Reduce your ISO. Shutter not staying open long enough? Readjust so it stays open longer. Do this every so often to make sure you’re getting the pictures you want!
What tips do you have for photographing sparklers? What designs do you or your family/friends enjoy making? What creative things have you seen done with sparkler writing?
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