Recently a student asked me for a project.  As it is the 4th of July, and as we had been working with long and short exposures, this project came to mind immediately.  One thing with which I’ve enjoyed experimenting is light writing and light painting, because they allow you complete control over your light in a very hands on way.  I’ll cover light painting in a future post, but this will cover the process for light writing.

Here are the results of a project I did a few years ago:

1The first one I made for my husband, Rick, and the second for my dorm residents.  (I was faculty-in-residence for 8 years at Epworth.  I love my Epworthians!)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. sparklers (with a way to light them) or a flashlight (with batteries)
  2. an assistant OR a remote for your camera – For the following instructions, I’m going to assume you’ve got an assistant (many kids like to help with this one!), but otherwise, you’ll need to be your own assistant and use the remote.
  3. a DSLR or other type of camera that allows you to use manual settings (with memory & batteries)
  4. a tripod, beanbag, or other means of securing your camera
  5. a dark night or dark interior space
  6. an extra flashlight to allow you to set up your camera and gear in the darkness

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Set your camera on manual, put the mirror up (on Nikon that is the Mup setting, for mirror lock up), and choose your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  The examples here were done with the following settings:  ISO800, f/32 at 15 seconds.  You’ll want to experiment, based on your lenses, the length of the sparklers burning, the speed of your assistant, etc., but this should give you a functioning starting point.
  2. Put your camera on the tripod.
  3. Use a flashlight to focus the camera on your assistant — either on the flashlight or where the sparkler will be.
  4. Click the shutter release once to raise the mirror.
  5. Light the sparkler or turn on the flash light.
  6. Click the shutter release another time and at the same time have your assistant start writing.

This will take some experimenting to keep the letters within your frame, to get the letters to look good, and get the exact look you desire.  It takes some practice.  Make sure you have enough sparklers!  Here are some of the letter e:


Have a great time, be safe, and let me know how it goes!

Happy 4th of July!


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