Try Something a Bit Different with a Sparkler This 4th of July

Sparks

Safety first, you’re playing with fire so take a few precautions.

  • Plan ahead where things are going to go and do a dry run before it gets too dark.
  • Fire is bad, water is good, but water is also bad for a camera. Remember to have a bucket of water to put the sparklers in but don’t fill it so full that it’s going to spill everywhere if you accidently knock it over.
  • Don’t wear synthetic material around fire. Cotton and wool will burn normally so you can take it off in a hurry if it does catch fire. Materials like polyester and nylon will melt onto you and then you’re going in for a trip to the ER.
  • Remember your camera is plastic, don’t get it too close to the sparks if possible. If you still want to be close shroud the camera in something that isn’t immediately going to burn to protect it.
  • Watch where your sparks are going and keep track of your firesource so you don’t cause any accidents.
  • Finally if you live in California don’t play with fire, it’s the last thing you guys need at the moment.

Materials Neededsparklers

  • Camera
  • A relatively close to macro lens, in my case a Canon 55-250 since I’m not made of money
  • Tripod
  • Sparklers
  • Lighter
  • Bucket of Water to douse sparklers
  • Flashlight
  • Remote, not required but very helpful for taking bursts

In terms of sparklers I use TNT Fireworks #8 Gold Sparklers, $2 for six boxes at Kmart so they are not the most expensive ones. Honestly they are junk, but in our case that actually works out for once. Mainly they are short, so short I’d never give a kid one as they go out in about 30 seconds max. For us though being a macro shot anything outside of the frame is wasted so thats a plus. Being so cheap the material also has a tendency to flake off as it’s sparking which is nice as we can catch a lot of secondary sparks as those pieces burn up. I wouldn’t suggest the color changing variety as your white balance is going to be a bit random.

Sparks_1Once you’ve got a sparkler in the ground setup the tripod to your lens’s minimum focus distance, or in other words as close as possible for your lens. Getting it as close to the subject and still in focus is the goal but watch out that it’s not dangerously close in the case of a true macro lens. In the case of a partial macro shot just keep in mind that you will have to do a bit of cropping later (See Photorec.tv – Super Moon? Super Crop!).

SparksYou need to nail the focus perfectly. Use a flashlight or whatever light source you have available to light up the sparkler. You need to be exact as being a macro shot your depth of field is going to be about the same as the width of the sparkler. Since the focus is so shallow we want to catch sparks traveling parallel with our focus plane, the window of focus in front of the camera, so that everything lines up in focus as much as possible.

Sparks_3Decide your composition. I don’t think you’re going to want a pole(the sparkler) in the center of your photo so adjust as needed to get it to the far left or right so its not in the way. You want to get the middle of the sparkler in frame as the top is a bit of a waste before it gets going. I prefer out of frame personally as it maximizes the amount of frame you have to work with to get the shot even though you lose one side of the sparkler.

SparksFor manual settings it’s a pretty simple shot to setup. Being it’s a light source we can use ISO 100 which conveniently blacks out the background if it’s not completely dark yet. F/13 aperture to get the depth of field wide as possible. Speed is the tricky part, too slow and you’ve got a massive overexposed explosion, too fast and its dim with tiny lines. For a more chaotic busier photo go 0.3” Sec, to catch fewer straighter lines go 1/25” Sec, and 1/10″ Sec for a happy medium.

Sparks_6If you have image stabilization turn it off. It’s not doing anything while attached to a tripod and actually induces a slight blur. The system can’t detect any movement and on occasion will inadvertently cause a shake. With the macro shots in this case the tiniest shake is going to blur the photo and you just wasted a sparkler. This isn’t a constant effect and will only happen to a few rare photos but its better for this to be a habit now then learn the lesson while your on a expensive vacation.

RemoteFor shooting your going to want a burst of photos without touching the camera. A remote is going to be very handy in this case as it can be held down to continuously take photos. Alternatively a self timer set to take multiple shots is your best option sans remote. At this point its the same process as shooting lightning, we want to capture a bunch of shots so we can sort through them later.

With everything set up now light the sparkler, count to three so its in frame, and start taking photos of the sparks.

Post processing is a bit tricky in this case. Unlike shooting thunderstorms where a shot with lightning is evident you have to sort through the photos to find the sparks in focus. As I said previously if you can’t get to a 1:1 macro shot you will have to do a bit of cropping for size and composition. Camera’s now take large enough photos that if you have to lose a good portion to get your shot overall it’s still plenty large enough for small prints and displaying online.

Quick tip: For editing check your white balance, you may have to bring it back a bit cooler to get the gold color as in some shots they might be a bit warm.

Sparks_7

 

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