Feature photo by Kristen Ryan
Photographing sparklers is a great way to add a little touch of magic to any picture. We asked five pro photographers to share their expert advice on using sparklers for photography. You’re gonna love these tricks! So, whether you’re photographing a wedding, festival, parade or just your kids having fun, we’ve got a pro tip for you!
1. Light trails
From photographer Kristen Ryan
As the weather warms up, our adventures seem to extend a little longer, often lasting well into the night. This is a great time to get creative with light. So break out those sparklers, glow sticks or lanterns and create some fun light trails.
Kristen’s expert advice on photographing light trails:
- Grab a tripod or find a sturdy base: While a tripod will do wonders I don’t always have a tripod on hand when we are out so I will set my camera on any sturdy surface I can find (ground included), then use my lens cap or camera strap to angle my lens slightly upward. In the feature photo (above) I used my Canon EOS 6D with a Canon 35mm lens at f/9, 1/15 sec, ISO 100 and set the camera on the ground. In the flag photo (below) I used a tripod and timer.
- Remote or self-timer: To avoid camera shake when capturing at such a slow shutter speed you will want to use your in-camera self timer or use a remote. This will keep your camera as still as possible when snapping your image and reduce the chance of any movement when you hit the shutter.
- Flash light: If you are attempting this at dark you will need a light to shine on your subject so that you can get focus. Be sure to turn it off when you are ready to take the photo.
- Slow shutter speed: Depending on the time of day this part can get a little tricky. You need a slow enough shutter speed to give your subject the chance to move the sparkler/light source around a few times. To achieve this slow of a shutter speed when it isn’t quite dark yet you will need to adjust your ISO and f-stop accordingly. I will usually set my ISO as low as possible, ISO 100 then raise or lower my f-stop until I am able to have correct exposure with a shutter speed anywhere between 1.5 to 15 secs. This will depend on how much natural light is still available. When the sun has just set, my settings are usually around ISO 100, f/20, 2 second shutter speed. When it is completely dark it will be around, ISO 100, f/2, 13 second shutter speed. It will take a little bit of trial and error, so make sure to have a few extra sparklers just in case. Play around with your settings to find the look you are going for.
- Create: Imagine you are drawing on a chalkboard. Get creative with different shapes and lines. If you want to try words, keep in mind you must write them backwards to get it correct in camera.
From photographer Courtney Larson
Sparklers add a level of excitement that perfectly fit within the once-in-a-lifetime event of a wedding. While they can be temperamental at times, sparklers can actually produce the perfect amount of light needed to document the moment while naturally creating engagement and emotion between the wedding guests and the bride and groom. In today’s modern weddings, adding in sparklers is a fantastic way to end the night on a high.
To give yourself the most available light, have the guests stand with just enough room for the couple to walk through. It can also be helpful to prep the bride and groom beforehand. I tell them, “This is the last moment of the night. GO SLOW. TAKE YOUR TIME. Halfway through, stop and kiss, too!”
Courtney’s pro tips for photographing sparklers at weddings:
- If the couple asks your opinion before the wedding day, make sure to let them know they will need the long sparklers. The shorter ones will not last long enough to light them for the exit.
- Prep the guests, too! I let the guests in the middle know they are my MVPs and their reactions to the couple are critical! When the couple stops to kiss, they are to cheer them on!
- You will get burned. Help yourself by throwing on a jacket!
- For an extra pop, set up a flash at the entrance and trigger it with your camera.
3. Festivals and special occasions
From photographer Kirsty Larmour
In India, fireworks are used for all types of festivals and celebrations. Sparklers are the perfect fireworks for kids to play with, so they come out all the time. Besides the sparkly kind of sparklers, we have the kind that give off a cloud of brightly colored smoke – these create a fun effect that is great to play with.
If you’re shooting sparklers at night time, you will probably want to set your exposure manually. On an automatic or semi-automatic mode the camera will try to overexpose because of the dark environment – this can lead to the sparkler being blown out in your photo with the highlights far too bright for any detail to be seen.
Kirsty’s pro tips for photographing sparklers at festivals:
- If you’re trying to capture that split-second moment in time, make sure your shutter speed is high enough to freeze the action of the sparklers being waved around, and also to freeze the smoke or sparks as they fly.
- Using back button focus helps to hold the focus on your subject, even when the sparkler is being moved around. However, if the subject is moving around a lot with the sparkler then it might be a good idea to try continuous focus.
- It’s fun to get creative and make smoke trails. Make sure your focus point enables a composition where the smoke can be part of the scene rather than it floating out of the frame. Movement in the frame from left to right is often visually pleasing. This may mean asking the kids to move their sparklers from right to left, or flipping a photo in post production.
- Try a slower shutter speed for full-on light trail fun with your sparklers. Make sure your exposure is correct by lowering your ISO and/or raising your f-stop to enable the slower shutter speed.
The photo below is from the Diwali festival, or festival of lights. During Diwali, there are fireworks and parties that go on for days.
4. Patriotic holidays
From photographer Shalonda Chaddock
Shalonda’s trick for creating the perfect sparkler photo:
- Light the sparkler and capture a few close-ups of the light and sparkles with a super fast shutter speed (1/1,000, for example) until the sparkler burns out.
- Next, step back, hand your subject another sparkler and shoot the entire scene that you want to capture with the proper settings to nail exposure for the light.
- Then, use the close-up image to create an overlay for the second image. Voilà! Your own authentic overlay with the perfect sparkles for any holiday.
5. Sparkler overlays
From photographer Briahna Viglianco
Every year we see classic summer photos spread across social media. Watermelons, ice cream, sunglasses and so much more. Most of these are fun and easy to shoot with kids of any age, but one of the classics may not be so easy: sparkler photos.
Sparklers are fascinating to kids and even more intriguing in photographs. But not every child can hold them safely, and they aren’t suitable for all weather conditions. My son is afraid to hold a sparkler so we’ve had to improvise with themed shoots in order to get the same effect. Sparkler overlays are the perfect solution! We keep my son happy, I don’t have to worry about wind or rain, and I get the result I want every time.
Briahna’s pro tips for using sparkler overlays in photos:
- Sparkler overlays are used just like any other overlay in Adobe Photoshop. Drag and drop the overlay image onto your photo to apply it, and then use the transform tool to adjust size.
- The key with sparklers is to vary the brightness with a brush on low opacity to mimic what real sparklers would do (flicker). I like to make any of the “fly aways” a bit dimmer to add a bit of realism.
- I found this set of sparkler overlays on Etsy. The pack includes regular sparkler bursts, shapes, numbers, letters and tons of fun variations. If you do a quick search of “sparkler overlays” you will find several package options.
Pro tip: Sparkler overlays can be added to images with real sparklers in them to enhance what is already there.
Sparkler safety tips:
From photographer Tiffany Kelly
- Use the long sparklers! They are wonderful for photos and also for safety purposes because they burn for a lot longer and kiddos won’t feel like the sparks are getting too close to their hand.
- Closely supervise your kids with sparklers. Make sure they know not to touch or throw them, and not to get too close to another person. Of course, be mindful of the ages of your children and only give sparklers to children who are mature enough to handle them safely. I always lay out the ground rules before we get started, and I don’t take my eyes off my kids once they have the lit sparklers. For photos, I have my husband assist so he can supervise while I shoot.
- Have a bucket of water nearby as a safe place to put the hot sparklers after use.
Important note: Sparklers may not be legal in your area. Always check your local laws and regulations before attempting to use sparklers in your photography.