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How to use party sparklers for light-painting with a difference

THE MISSION

Learn how to capture sparkler drawings and text

Time needed: 30 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: Sparklers, Cable release or remote control, Matches or lighter, Tripod

Light-painting is always a fun way to spend an evening outdoors, but it can get dull just using a plain torch to draw shapes.

Why not swap your usual light source for a party sparkler? It adds a celebratory touch to the shoot, as well as a glittery quality to the light itself. It’s best to set up in a garden or quiet street, away from excitable pets or children – the key is to pick somewhere you’ll have plenty of room to move the sparkler after firing the shutter. Because it’ll be dark, it might take a few attempts to get the composition and focus right. Using a wide-angle lens is the best way to fit long words into the frame. Once you’ve got the camera position and settings sorted, call in a few friends, set multiple sparklers moving across the exposure, and get the party started! 

REMEMBER YOUR WRITING TECHNIQUE

You’ll need to write out the letters backwards so that the camera records the words the right way. Face the camera, outstretch your arm and write backwards from right to left. If you can’t get the hang of this, write normally and flip your images using editing software later on. It takes practice to know how much of the scene is covered in the composition.

STEP BY STEP: Light 'em up and spell it out!

Move a sparkler during a long exposure and add words to your evening scenes

01 CAMERA SETTINGS

Shoot in Shutter Priority (Tv) mode. The ideal shutter speed depends on the length of the word or speed of your drawing, but 10 secs is a good start. Because it was fully dark, we set an ISO of 400.

02 FOCUS AND FIRE

Pre-focus on where the sparklers are going to be. It’s easiest to use Manual mode for this. Put on gloves (for protection and warmth), light the sparkler, fire the shutter remotely and start writing.

03 TEST AND PERFECT

Keep the sparkler moving smoothly and consistently across the frame as you write. Review the shot, and tweak the shutter speed and composition if you can’t get all the words or image into the frame.

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Lauren Scott
Lauren Scott

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.