Sparklers are a fun addition to any outdoor activity - campfires, camping, and just backyard fun - but after noticing the light trails you can see when playing with sparklers, we've been toying with capturing the magic of these novelty items using long exposure photography. The possibilities are vast with a medium like this and each one will turn out a little different, making the experiment all the richer.
We took many of these after typical summer bonfires in my parents' backyard with our friends and theirs participating and since it was such a hit, we did it again at my parents' New Years party - hence '2014!' in the first photo. There's usually no plan of what to make ahead of time, just a bunch of excited people playing with sparklers and then someone says, "OH! What if...?" and someone grabs a camera! One friend is an art history buff and saw these glowing spheres in haunting images and wanted to recreate them; we did a lot of playing with other shapes and patterns; sometimes it's just fun to paint with the range of your body like my arm arcs. Now, I doubt there will be a gathering at my parents' house where my mom doesn't have a dozen boxes of sparklers ready just in case :-)
Note: All photos are mine except for the 2014 photo, which was taken by my brother (I'm in this photo, painting the '2').
"2014!" by Dan Irwin is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
To make your own sparkler photographs, you'll need:
- A camera capable of long exposure photographs (usually in need of a manual mode or more than automatic controls)
- A sturdy tripod or a nice flat object
- Ideally, a remote shutter but this is optional
- Matches, a flame stick, a candle, or a fire (just be careful that you have access to flame easily and safely, especially if your photo ideas involve running around)
- People (some of the best concepts we had involved groups of people willing to be silly for the sake of art and adventures)
- SPARKLERS of course! Be sure to have enough on hand to try as many experiments as you'd like.
Step 2: Camera Setup
Your own camera, setting, light, and experience will dictate exactly what you need your camera settings to be.
We found a 6-10 second exposure worked really well in our space with my camera. Almost all were taken from a tripod, though setting the camera on a rock worked well for the more dramatic, low shots.
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
When you have a concept you like, try it as many times as you're able while experimenting with different variables. Here are some ways you can change up your light painting:
For the sparkler side:
- Distance to the camera
- Speed of movement
- External light sources
- Number of sparklers going at once
- Number of people painting at once
- Repetition of patterns
- Novelty of strokes (never repeating)
For the camera side:
- Shutter speed
What are other variables you've tried adjusting? Leave them in the comments!
Step 5: Try Some Crazy Ideas
This became a favorite - a 'monkey in the middle' type idea. If you find them fun to look at, imagine the two or three people running around the center folks with flaming sparklers, swooping and jumping to make different patterns ;-)
Even the 'mistakes' are beautiful and you can learn a new way of doing things by looking at each one.
What new ideas do you have? Post your own sparkler art in the comments below!