Sparkler Photography

Photographing people with sparklers - I’ve been experimenting and for anyone interested in having a go here is what I’ve learned
How to take photographs of people with sparklers:-

First of all note the safety instructions on the sparklers. I hadn’t bothered until my young nephew held the wrong end of a sparkler, and then I noticed the warning telling you to wear gloves! But he only had himself to blame because it clearly said, only use under ADULT supervision.

The photograph needs to be a long enough exposure to capture the patterns of the sparkler with a flash to freeze the people: -

(a) With a long exposure any ambient light can add blur to the portrait e.g. light from a house or streetlight, or the sparkler itself (this happens only if it is close to the face – NOT TOO CLOSE THOUGH, remember those safety instructions!!!!). Try to photograph away from any ambient light sources if possible and also try to avoid any lights directly in the background of the shot. If there is ambient light set the ISO to 100 if one wants to reduce the blur, also one can decrease the aperture (increase f) but this reduces the brilliance of the sparkler at the same time.

(b) I used Manual mode on the camera to set shutter speed and aperture as required.

(c) I put the flash on a separate flash stand but it can remain on camera. The flash is then aimed directly at the subject. I used my Flash on Manual to help get the exposure correct for an off-centre subject.

(d) My flash focuses in the dark with no problem but I used the modelling light on my flash to help make sure the composition was correct before taking the shot, to avoid chopping their feet off.

(e) I left the Colour Temperature on Auto. But the colour of the sparkler can be made less orangey/yellow and whiter by reducing the Colour Temperature, reduce it too far though and the people start to look blue. Using coloured sparklers would be an easier way to change the colours.

Light the sparkler before taking the shot and let the subject hold it either where it looks good for the portrait or where the writing is to start.

(a) For the writing, either you or the subject can do it depending whose writing is better.
i. …...If you are writing then you’ll need a tripod for your camera and set the timer.
ii. …..If not then hand held is all right just hold it fairly steady during the writing, your camera shake won’t be worse than their sparkler shake. You can expose using Bulb instead of Manual, holding down just long enough for the writer to finish.

(b) Three techniques for writing: -
i. .…..Face the camera and do backwards writing but it’s tricky.
ii. …..Face the camera and do normal handwriting then reverse the image in Photoshop. But any text (e.g. on clothes) plus hairdos will be reversed.
iii. ….Have back to camera and hold sparkler out to one side so it is visible to the camera and then write normally but off to the side.

(c) You don’t need to hurry when writing. Use joined up handwriting and write steadily with fluidity. Faster writing makes it thinner with less sparkle. One can alternatively draw over each letter repeatedly as one goes along to thicken the text if desired. Let your calligraphic skills shine, so to speak, but check your spelling!

Drawing images is more fun for kids, young ones and adult ones: -

(a) For example:-
i. …...They can draw circles around their faces. [If you do the drawing instead, circles behind their heads, there will be less ambient light on their faces and the sparkles won’t cross their face, more of a halo effect, but less fun for the kids].
ii. …..They can draw a simple giant Pac-Man mouth, open and about to eat them. Get them to pose appropriately for the flash shot, e.g. look of horror.
iii. ….Let them get creative, drawing giant teddy bears, flowers, elephants etc. But if their artistic talents don’t stretch that far, and they are more of a Pollock than a Rembrandt, then just let them draw squiggles all over the place.
iv. …..You can also stand behind them and give them Angel Wings or turn them into Little Devils (horns/ trident/ forked tail).

(b) If you are doing the drawing by walking into the shot with the sparkler then to avoid a trail of sparkler light going to-and-from ones drawings just keep ones back turned to the camera until you are where you want to start drawing. Similarly turn ones back if you want to create gaps in your drawing/text.

(c) When drawing you don’t need to be too close behind the subject for the light to look like it is emanating from them. We don’t want little Johnny to burst into flames do we? You need to get the angle right though, so if you want them to look like they are holding something, they need a clenched fist and the sparkler needs to be lined up along the line from the camera through their fist. This though can be tricky if you’ve been temporarily blinded by the flash, the sparkler, or both.

(d) If you are staying in the same spot while drawing then if possible keep hidden behind the subject to avoid any slight blurred image of one self appearing. Unless of course you want to see your ghostly face appearing over your subject’s shoulder.

It is better if the subject wears lighter coloured clothes then they won’t merge into the dark background (as in my shot). Similarly if you wear dark clothes you will stand out less when drawing – wear a hoodie or better still a balaclava!

Buy lots of sparklers, the photography is easy to do but takes time to do well. It also requires willing human guinea pigs; luckily my family were bored of Christmas good cheer and submitted to my evil experiments instead. Hopefully these notes will make your guinea pigs’ lives less painful.

My image was shot at 15 seconds, f11 (due to a lot of ambient light), ISO 100.

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