Light painting is a beautiful phrase, isn’t it? Light painting happens when your camera records the movement of light. In this post I’m going to show you how to paint with light using sparklers!
I’m sure you’ve seen the photos with sparklers lighting up a picture with text or shapes. Today I’ll share with you some quick tips on how to achieve this look with your camera.
What you will need:
–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
This is really helpful! Thanks so much!!!
We did this for our wedding and loved it!
Love this, never tried this before and my firework photos leave a lot to be desired so will definitely give this one a try!
I’ve always wanted to try this out! Thanks for the tips 🙂
Ooh I need to try this! Just got myself a Nikon D5200 so I need projects to play around with 🙂
We just did this tonight and it was so fun. Everyone, of all ages, had a blast!!!
These photos are gorgeous! I love the black and white ones!
Omg loved reading this so much! This is such a cool idea! 🙂 those are some great shots and great tips
Me and my cousins have had so many fun summer nights playing with sparkles during late sunsets in Northern Germany. We never went too complex and always stuck with painting hearts, but this has inspired me to maybe get a bit more detailed with summer. Wonderful post, and, as always, beautiful photography!
I used to love taking light painting photos with my Diana mini! I don’t know why it’s never occured to me to try it with my SLR!
this is soo lovely <3
I didn’t realize so much went into this shots! I don’t have a DSLR but I’ll keep this in mind for when I – fingers crossed – get one soon!
Its hard to get sparklers year round where i live… Any ideas for substitutions? Dying to give this a shot….:)
This is fantastic! I love playing with sparklers but have never attempted to photograph it. I can’t wait to try it out, thanks for the tips!
Creative artwork and fun.
sounds quite simple and still looks this beautiful!
I’ve seen everyone do these photos but I’ve never gotten round to doing it myself. They look amazing and can you imagine how much fun it’d be!
Couldn’t you just flip the photo in photoshop rather than trying to write backwards?
Beautiful camera shots. We did something similar last year when we were on Wareham beach, but we didn’t play around with the shutter speed settings. I’ve heard about how a slow shutter speed takes longer to snap a shot, and so it results in a streaming shot. But i’ll be honest, I’m not expert with the camera. I usually just take a shot and hope for the best!
However, looking at your photos above, has inspired me to put more effort into my photography. So I think this 4th of July, I’m going to whip out my camera and get fancy!
Thanks for sharing the photos. Great stuff!
Looks awesome!! Please please remind people to be very careful when playing with sparklers (or firecrackers…) especially if you live in a hot, DRY place like California!! Let’s all play by the rules and not keep our wonderful firefighters too busy this holiday weekend 🙂