How to photograph sparklers at night
You will need:
Sparklers - here are the two different kinds of sparklers that we bought. The little boxes are fun but the sparkler light does not last very long. The big box marked "neon" is very bright and easier to photograph due to the long burn time, but does not burn neon.
Pay attention to your state and national laws.
You need to have a camera with a Manual setting so that you can follow these instructions. This is marked as M on your camera and can be found on most SLR cameras; many point and shoot cameras, and some camera phones. This will be explained in more depth below.
You can't photograph and light the sparkler, so it is helpful to have a few people working on this and no kids on this one.
You will also need:
Masking Tape - optional
Piece of tin foil or a non-flammable tin for used sparklers
Find a safe place to photograph while it is still light out, a driveway or a sidewalk is a good place. Make sure that the background will be dark with as few distracting lights as possible. These lights will show up in your photographs and are hard to remove in Photoshop. Choose where your camera will be set up. Look thru the camera and have another person use masking tape to mark the center and edges of what's visible. This will be helpful if you want to set up more complex shots with writing or broad gestures. When it is dark, you will be able to go to your designated spots and things will run smoother than if you were running around aimlessly.
This picture illustrates with the red arrows how I marked out the frame of the photograph with white tape.
Set the camera to M (manual mode) which will allow you to better control your exposure. Set the camera on ISO 200 to insure that you will have no noise. The ISO tells the camera what kind of light situation you are in. The brighter the object you want to capture the lower the ISO. ISO 200 is normally a daylight setting but because the sparklers are bright you need this setting to capture the detail of the sparkler. This exposure should also insure that the background will be black.
Ready to go
Wait until the sky is completely dark before you start. Set your lens aperture at f/11 because of the brightness of the subject. Set the shutter speed at 8 seconds. Some cameras only go to 4 seconds and in that case set the aperture at f/8. These settings are a starting point. You may need to make adjustments depending on equipment.
Hint - If your exposure is too dark, increase your exposure time or set your aperture from f/11 to f/8. If your exposure is to bright, decrease your exposure time or change the aperture to f/16.
Put your camera on a tripod.
Some cameras will be able to auto focus on the sparkler and some won’t. I have explained both scenarios below.
Type 1 – autofocus method
When your partner lights the sparkler, aim the lens at the light while they hold it still. Your camera will be able to focus. If your pictures look blurry try Type 2 –manual focus.
Type 2 - manual focus
Turn off the auto focus setting and set on manual. This will vary from camera to camera. On my camera, this setting is located on the camera body near the lens on the left side. Illuminate the sparkler holder with the flashlight and make sure your partner is standing in the same place that they will be when you actually light the sparkler. Now focus the camera on something easier to see, such as their hand. Keep in mind that the sparkler will be extended an arm’s length from where they stand. With the focus set, when the sparkler is lit you’ll be ready to go.
You are now set to take the first picture. We got two or three photographs on each small sparkler, and ten 8 second shots with the large ones.
Now you can assess your images for exposure and sharpness on the viewing screen and tweak your settings as needed.
Make ISO a smaller number, make the f/stop a larger number or make the shutter speed faster to improve the exposure of the photograph.
Here are some of our favorites that we took because we could – I can never have too many photographs – and that’s the truth!
About our guest blogger:Photography has been my lifetime career and passion. You can find some of my work on my website or purchase prints on Etsy. I also have a blog where I am retelling the love story between my grandparents in real time using my grandfather’s love letters. Each one is posted exactly 100 years after it was originally sent. It is a wonderful look into the world they shared. Check it out!
-Beth Shepherd Peters