The Fourth if July is fast approaching, I thought this would be the perfect time for a challenge with SPARKLERS! I love playing around with Light Painting. Light painting is basically using a long exposure to record all the light your camera “sees”. A long exposure allows your camera to record the movements of a flashlight, sparkler or any other light source. You can easily do this with a point and shoot camera or a DSLR.
I looked into my photo archives to find some examples of light painting. Keep in mind that these examples are just my experimentations. The first four photos were taken on my deck. We just used flashlights. My camera is simply sitting on our picnic table (a tripod would have come in handy, but as long as you don’t bump the table it works just fine.) We played around with some different techniques- outlining people with light, drawing pictures (Owen actually drew that pirate ship) and just moving the flashlights around madly. The second to photos were taken at St. Vincent Festival last year with a light saber. I hand held the camera-which is not ideal, but with all the lights from the festival those photos ended up being really fun. The last set of photos are actually of sparklers. I included my aperature, ISO and exposures. Notice that the longer the exposure the more light that is recorded.
So, how can you do this? There are a couple of different ways to create a light painting. All of them require a little trial and error (which is a part of the fun). If you are using a point and shoot camera, check and see you have a “night scene” mode. This will probably be the easiest mode to use. However, some night mode settings include a flash during the exposure. This can be good and bad depending on how much light painting you can get in before the flash. The fun part of having the flash is that you will catch the light painter in action. It might also be possible to turn the flash off while using this mode- try that too.
Manual mode is the best setting to use. Make sure you are in a pretty dark outdoor area. My backyard works just fine. I would recommend DSLR and p+s users click their cameras over to manual mode and try these settings as a starting point: Aperature f/5.6, ISO 100 and shutter speed 10-25 seconds. Start out with a 25 second exposure and adjust from there. If the image is too bright and you are not seeing the light trails then cut the time back 5-10 seconds.
In a longer exposure your light painter will disappear completely as they move around. A shorter exposure will usually show the light painter although he or she will be blurry. You can also get a ghosting effect where you see the same person multiple times in a shot. All of these things are very fun to play with!
One quick tip: I always light a candle (a freestanding candle) and sit it on a small table so the kids can light their own sparklers. I also sit a glass of water beside the candle to put their used sparklers in so no one gets burned.
I also wanted to add that we play light painting like a game of charades. While the person is “drawing” with their flashlight everyone else is trying to guess what they are making. We all look at the photo after the drawing is complete to see if the artist succeeded in making their drawing recognizable. The first four photos in this post are from one of our light painting games. Little kids can just draw shapes if they want. It’s so much fun!
*Extra Credit: Write your families last name in light using a sparkler or flash light. If you have a long last name do one letter at a time, shoot the photos vertically and print one 4×6 of each letter. Don’t forget that the light painter needs to write the letters backwards!