Sparkler Pictures 101 | How to Make the Best 4th of July Photos

Sparkler pictures - writing with light
Photo: Amber Dickson

Sparklers pictures are a fun and festive part of any 4th of July gathering.  Find out how you can document the day by taking long exposure photographs on your smartphone.  Your Instagram feed is going to shine!           


Sparklers in hands
Photo: Amber Dickson

Safety First When Creating Sparkler Pictures

The most important step is insuring your safety and that of the people around you.  Always make sure any children are closely supervised.  Sparklers can reach temperatures above 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and need to be handled carefully.  Use caution both when they are lit and after they finish sparking.  It is so much better to end the night ooh-ing and aah-ing at fireworks as opposed to waiting at the ER to get a burn treated.


Sparklers on the beach
Photo: Amber Dickson

Stability is Key

Normally, your camera records a picture in a mere fraction of a second.  Long exposure photography creates the image over the course of multiple seconds. Unless the goal is to create an abstract image, your phone needs to be stabilized. Even if your current beach body has 18-inch biceps, you will not be strong enough to hold it completely still.  A tripod or some other method of bracing the camera is necessary when creating sparkler pictures


Sparklers at twilight
Photo: Amber Dickson

Capturing Sparklers in a Photo

There are three ways to capture your image using a smartphone instead of DSLR camera.

Manual Mode

Later model Android phones have a ‘manual’ or ‘pro’ mode.  Initially, set the shutter speed between one and three seconds and the ISO between 100 and 400.  Experiment with these settings to get the shot you want.    

iPhone Live

If you have an iPhone operating with iOS11, another option is to use the Live mode in the camera app.  When enabled, the camera captures 1.5 seconds before the picture is snapped and 1.5 seconds after.  To create your image, compose your shot and take a Live picture.  Select it from the cameral roll and swipe up to reveal the Effects menu. Select ‘Long Exposure’ and a new image will be made by layering all three seconds of Live footage.

Third Party Apps

The last option is to use a third-party app.  Search ‘long exposure photography’ in the app store to explore your options. Slow Shutter Cam is one of my favorite apps to use. It has a capture mode specifically for light trails and the interface is simple to navigate.


Sparkler Writing Love
Photo: Amber Dickson

Get Creative

Now, pull out your imagination.  It’s time for some fun!  

Consider starting with something simple.  A two-second exposure shot of a single sparkler in total darkness is easy to create but still yields magical results.   Gradually add people and multiple sparklers as you get the hang of your camera.  Make sure to experiment with settings.  You are sure to stumble accidentally into some great shots this way.     

Keep in mind that the longer the shutter speed, the more sparks and light trails you will capture.  However, if getting a clear and focused image of someone’s face is your goal, the shutter speed needs to be limited to one second. 

When using sparklers to ‘write’ with light, it is much easier to flip the image in a photo editor than it is to form the letters backward as the picture is taken. 

Pin this sparkler writing tutorial!
Share this project on Pinterest!

Remember, sparklers do not have to be relegated solely to the 4th of July.  Keep some on hand for backyard barbecues, impromptu picnics on the beach, and even a run-of-the mill weeknight at home.  They are guaranteed to add, well, sparkle to everything.   

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