What you will need:
-a DSLR camera
-a tripod or something to set your camera on
Wait until dusk to get the best results with your sparklers.
The light is really low right after golden hour, but you should have a tiny bit left to light up your scene. The light from your sparklers will not be as strong because it is not pitch black, but that's OK. If you are trying this out for the first time, I would hold off photographing in pitch black until you can really master light painting with your camera.
Some photographers like the ambient light from magic hour and others don't. It's totally up to you! If you do decide to shoot in the dark, bring a flashlight and buddy to hold it for you. Set your camera on a sturdy tripod or sturdy spot (pile of books, table, etc.).
Why use a tripod?
When you have to keep your shutter open for a long period of time, you will get camera shake, which means that your picture/scene will be blurry. You want to make sure that your scene is as sharp as possible.
In-camera technical tips:
To ensure you get a sharp image, take your f-stop to a higher number (more depth of field). That way more of your scene will be in focus. Turn your ISO down to 100 (this will reduce grain/noise in your photo).
Focus tips for photographing in the dark:
If you are photographing a really dark scene, your camera will have a tough time finding your subject. To focus your scene, have your subject light themselves with a flashlight, turn your lens to manual focus, and focus your scene until it appears sharp in your viewfinder.
Another way to do it is to set your lens to auto focus (AF) and have your camera focus on the lit subject. Once the scene looks sharp, switch your lens back to manual (M) mode. This will freeze the focus!
It is really important that your subject doesn't move once you have locked in your focus. When your subject is ready, have them move the sparkler. If you have a ten second shutter speed, tell your subject when to start and how long they will have to move the sparkler around. A faster sparkler movement will create more fluid lines, a slower sparkler movement will have more choppy lines.
It's all about the shutter speed.
Why use a long shutter speed?
A longer shutter speed means that your camera shutter (the part of your camera that opens to let in the light…think of it as a door) will be open for a long period of time. While your shutter is open, it will record everything that happens in that time frame. This is where the term "light painting" comes into play. Light painting is just a fancy way to describe the light's movement. When you are writing, cursive looks best because your camera will pick up all of the light's movement. Shapes are really fun and easy too!
Pro tip: If you want to spell a word with sparklers, you'll need to spell it backwards or have your back face the camera.
Quick tip: Use this same technique with fireworks. The effect is very cool. With your camera and a slow shutter speed, you can capture the firework's path while ascending up into the sky! –Janae
P.S. Did some of the technical terms in this post leave you feeling lost? Check out our DSLR Basics e-Course which is designed to help you understand all the necessary basics (and beyond!) of using your DSLR camera!
Credits//Author and Photography: Janae Hardy. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.