Write (and draw) with Light Using Sparklers and a DSLR Camera
This technique, known as “painting with light,” is a very fun way to capture unique outdoor images after dark. It requires a camera with a manual mode option, a tripod (optional), a flashlight (optional), and, of course, sparklers. Oh, and a helper who will be your sparkler holder/light painter. Try this out, adjusting your camera settings as you go, until you’ve got the perfect, sparkling picture.
Step 1: Position your camera so it’s stationery, using either a tripod or a flat surface that is level with where your subject will be standing.
Tip: Avoid any bright lights in the background, which will come out over exposed and interfere with your overall design.
Step 2: Set your DSLR camera to manual mode and apply the following settings:
Shutter Speed: Between 11-30 seconds
Aperture: Anywhere from f/11-f/22
ISO Speed: 100 (if your camera doesn’t go this low, simply set it to the lowest setting it will go to)
Note: All cameras are different and all lighting settings (your environment) are different, so you’ll want to adjust these and play until you’ve found the right formula for you.
Step 3: If you have a remote shutter, you may want to work with it in place of actually pressing the shutter, as it will help keep the camera steady.
Step 4: Position your subject in front of the camera and focus your lens. If it’s too dark for your camera to focus, try shining a flashlight on your subject. If you want your subject to remain in the shot, keep the flashlight on them when taking the picture. If not, ask them to wear black so they aren’t as visible.
Step 5: With your camera set and your subject ready, light your sparkler and set to writing.
Note: When spelling words with a sparkler, you’ll want to write backwards for it to read correctly in the image (or flip the image using photo-editing software).
Tip: Use a longer sparkler to allow enough time to write. Short ones will run out too quickly.
Tip: Try drawing shapes as a nice entry point to this technique.
Try Bulb Mode!
If you’re familiar with Bulb Mode, this is another option for photographing writing/drawing using sparklers:
- Set your camera on a tripod
- Set your aperture as low as it will go, and set your shutter speed to Bulb mode. Blub mode allows you to control how long your shutter stays open. (If you don’t know how to set your camera in bulb mode, refer to your camera’s manual.)
- Push the shutter button and hold it down for the entire time the person is writing with the sparkler. When they are done, release the shutter button. TIP: Just as before, you need to have the person either write their name backwards, or you can flip it later using photo-editing software.
For additional tips from Elisha Snow, see her article “Step Up Your Snapshots” in the summer 2015 issue.