How to take amazing sparkler writing photos

Sparklers Words_0571Remember, remember the fifth of November the gunpowder, treason and plot. While we never forget the story of Guy Fawkes’ downfall at the houses of Parliament, we can never forget to get the cameras out at Capture Media’s Edinburgh office and capture some great long-exposure photographs with ordinary sparklers.

You may have seen these images before but how do you take pictures of words drawn by sparklers. In the useful and practical how to Capture Media will tell you what you need and how to set it up.

What you need

  • A tripod and attachment for camera
  • a camera with access to shutter speed setting (like a bridge camera, DSLR or GoPro)
  • sparklers, a lighter or box of matches
  • a bucket of water and gloves (REMEMBER: Safety first!)

Set up the camera

Camera low shutterAdjust your shutter speed to stay open for about ten seconds (long enough to write you name or word in the air). Capture Media has a Canon 5D MK II that we use to take pictures as well as video. If you have one, this picture should be familiar and adjusting the settings to match ours should be easy. On other cameras the display will be different, but if you can set your shutter speed to ten seconds, aperture to f.18 and you ISO to 800, I hope you get similar results.

On the GoPro, got to photo mode. Hit the settings button on the right of the camera and cycle through to set the camera to Night mode, and the shutter speed (indicated with an “S” in a circle) to ten. You can leave other settings on Auto if you are unfamiliar.

Because the shutter will be open longer than you would when taking a normal picture, this means that there is going to be a lot more light hitting your camera’s sensor, so you will need to make sure that the camera is set up to automatically compensate for this, or if you have a DSLR adjust your aperture and ISO settings to correctly expose the image. Use your exposure meter to help.

Framing your picture

Mount your camera on a tripod to keep the picture stable.

If you do this handheld, you will not get the desired effect. Instead there will be a lot of motion blur happening, when all we want to to do is capture the motion blur created by the sparklers.

Ask your subject to stand in frame and make sure you leave enough space for them to write their word. You can try asking to write in different sizes, but I found that writing the size of your hand gets the most readable results.

Capturing your picture

Settings set? Camera stable? Image framed? Starting to get dark outside? Then you’re ready to light your sparkler. With gloved hands, light your sparkler horizontally to avoid burning your hand with a lighter or a match.

Once lit hit the shutter button to take the photo. On a DSLR your shutter will go black for ten seconds. On a GoPro you should see a red light on the front of the camera. At this point as your subject to start writing. If your camera’s shutter isn’t closed yet, improvise with some shapes and lines around the frame.

REMEMBER to extinguish your sparkler safely in the bucket water before it burns out. We found that with enough efficiency, we could take two pictures with one sparkler

Previewing and editing your picture

It will take a few seconds before your DSLR will preview your image

In our pictures we didn’t do much in the way of editing – just a few crop and rotation adjustments. But you can go crazy to adjust hue and shadows to give the sparklers different colours.

One step further

Go mental! Try drawing shapes or using a laser pen against a well know building or object.

We’d love to check out your images, so make sure you tweet them to us and hashtag #CaptureThis on instagram as well.

Have fun and be safe this Bonfire Night.



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