Sparkler Photography - DIY Light Painting




About: Designer. Thinker. Doer. Hiker. Lover.

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
- Aperature
- Lens
- Remote
- Tripod
- Zoom/placement

What are other variables you've tried adjusting? Leave them in the comments!

Step 4: Another Example of Differences

Just to show the variations.

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!



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    16 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Nice idea,can't wait until I try for myself...Thanks for instructions :)

    I hope I can do it with my Grandpa camera,it's sixty years old,but pictures from that are much better than from modern cameras :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome photos. Thanks for the great step-by-step instructions. Sparkler light painting sure to be a family favorite for us!

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, pi526 ;-)

    Many more experiments to try! Might this make a good and unique family holiday card?!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Yes! Holiday card...I am going to make this happen...thanks for the suggestion! I'll post the picture after we take it in December or January. :-)


    Have you tried spinning steel wool before? The effect is similar but quite dramatic. I'm wondering if spinning sparklers would have a similar effect. I'll have to try it out.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I saw another Instructable for spinning steel wool but I haven't tried it yet! Light painting can be done with so many things and it's relatively cheap to experiment with if you have the camera already. Please share what you come up with!


    4 years ago

    Nice instructable! Try dressing in all black with thin black gloves and balaclava to avoid being seen in the pictures where they are "painting" around the subject.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Good idea! If you're going for that look, those are all solid tips.

    Some of these turned out better because you could see people, like the one with the arcs. I think it'd be fun to try with some reflective clothing, too!