Taking an awesome sparkler photo can be tricky, but the results are so fun and unique when taken correctly. It can be easy to get caught up in getting the timing and settings right and just grabbing any sparkler. However, the type of sparkler you use in your sparkler photos can make a huge difference in how it looks!
During a recent engagement shoot, we were trying to get just the right look for a sparkler shot that the future bride had in mind. We set everything up, figured out what we wanted to write, and then realized that different sparklers were giving us really different results. Frankly, before that shoot, I kind of figured a sparkler was a sparkler. Not at all! Some of the sparklers were brighter, some drippier (you’ll see exactly what drippier means!), some fizzled out on us before the shot was finished, and even the color of each type of sparkler differed a lot.
WHY YOU NEED THE RIGHT SPARKLER
It can be quite a bit of work setting up everything for the perfect sparkler shot. It needs to be dark enough outside, you have to have your sparkler and lighter ready to go, you’re often fumbling around in the dark with just a flashlight to help see your settings and the sparkler. If you’re adding people to the shot, that’s another element to consider. The last thing you want to do is get everything ready, get super excited about taking the perfect photo, and have the sparkler not give you the design or results you expect.
SPARKLER COMPARISON DETAILS AND SETTINGS
I went out and found nine popular sparklers and tested them all with the same settings to compare the differences between them. I was surprised just how different they all were! I drew a wavy line and a heart with each sparkler so that you can see the differences. Of course, my drawing isn’t perfect and there are some variations in my designs each time. The important things to focus on are the color, thinness or thickness of the line, drippiness or how concise the drawing is, and brightness of the sparkler. I didn’t have much trouble with sparklers sputtering out on me before I was finished, but I’ll also comment on the length of each sparkler and what ended up working best. I initially assumed longer sparklers would be better for longer drawing time, but that wasn’t always the case in the end.
For each photo, I attempted to draw with the sparkler at similar speeds (not moving too quickly or slowly through my line or heart). I also kept the same camera settings (f/13 and ISO 100 at 15 seconds shutter speed), white balance, and exposure so that you can really compare the differences. I wore mostly black so that I was hidden from the shot, but you’ll see there are times when my feet or body shows in the frame. I left that in the photos because that tended to happen when the sparkler gave off enough light to pick up parts of me in the photo. That’s helpful to know when you’re choosing the right sparkler so you can plan for it.
RESOURCES ON HOW TO TAKE A SPARKLER SHOT
There are plenty of articles out there about how to do sparkler shots, so I’m going to skip that discussion and focus only on the sparkler comparison. Whether you’re using an iPhone, a point and shoot camera, or a DSLR, it’s possible to take a fun sparkler photo. If you’re starting from scratch in learning how to take one, don’t be intimidated! There are a ton of awesome resources out there, and the process is really fun. Below are two articles that I found the most useful in getting a supply list and learning tips and tricks for an awesome sparkler photo.
How to Write with Sparklers: An Easy July 4th Party Idea: This post addresses taking sparkler photos with any type of camera and also provides a supply list and quick tips for taking a great sparkler photo.
Sparkler Photos Brides will Love: This article is more focused toward the DSLR user and the more professional photographer, but it is detailed and was so helpful in providing the confidence needed to pull off a great sparkler photo.
SPARKLER COMPARISON PHOTOS
Sparkler #1: Big Fireworks No. 10 Color Sparklers
I grabbed several of what I considered to be basic metal sparklers, and this was one of them. I thought the basic sparklers would all look the same, but one of my biggest surprises in this comparison was how different just the basic metal sparklers were from each other. It turns out the specific type of sparkler matters.
This sparkler was easy to use and had good color and light. The surprise here was how “drippy” it turned out to be. This made for a neat effect on the heart photo and looks more artsy. If you have people in your sparkler photo, however, this artsy look from the drippiness might compete with them. I’ve also found writing words like “love” is challenging with the more drippy sparklers because the letters run together.
Overall: I like this sparkler, but the drippiness effect needs to be taken into consideration. If you like that look and want it in your photos, then this sparkler is great. If you have people or actual letters or words in your photo, this sparkler might not be the best pick.
Sparkler #2: Morning Glory Sparklers
I was really excited about the morning glory sparklers. They were easy to find at every fireworks tent I went to, and they just look neat in the color paper wrapping. If I showed up to a wedding or photo shoot with these fireworks, I wouldn’t feel awkward by just showing up with a box of basic metal sparklers.
Surprise! These were my least favorite of the sparklers in terms of sparkler photos. They sputtered out on me faster than any of the other sparklers, even in the middle of drawing my heart. The line wasn’t smooth like many of the others, and the color was dull and didn’t pop as much as most of the other sparklers.
Overall: I can’t recommend these for sparkler photos. They sputtered out faster than any other sparkler, the line wasn’t smooth, and the color was a bit dull. I love the pretty packaging of these though, so I’m pretty disappointed by the overall effect. I did choose the shortest of the morning glory sparklers so, if you like the look of these, give the longer ones a try to see if they last longer for you.
Sparkler #3: World-Class Fireworks Color Sparklers
This was another box of the more basic metal sparklers. I like the brightness and vibrancy, and I had no problem drawing with them. The line was fairly smooth with just a little drippiness, but I liked that about them. My preference is a mostly smooth line with a bit of pop and drippiness, just not so much that it effects the shapes or letters in my sparkler photos.
The one thing I noticed about these sparklers are the different colors. I used one sparkler for the line and a second sparkler for the heart, and you can see in the photos that they are different colors. If you want color variety in one box of sparklers, this is a neat feature. However, if you are looking for a consistent color in one box, you won’t get that with these.
Overall: I liked these sparklers. They felt solid, were easy to use, and I liked the style of line which was mostly smooth with some crackling for effect. The sparklers in this one box were a variety of colors, which is great if you want color variety but might not be best if you want a guaranteed consistent color in your sparkler photos.
Sparkler #4: Lil’ Patriot 10″ Bamboo Sparklers
I was really surprised by the bamboo sparklers. When I bought them, I thought they would be more of a novelty product that didn’t provide good results, but they ended up being one of my favorite sparklers. The first thing I noticed is that they are lightweight compared to the metal sparklers. I never considered sparklers to be heavy, but the weight difference is notable. Although that didn’t matter much to me at first, I found myself going back to these each time I wanted to grab a sparkler to play around with photo ideas. Also, you’ll notice I only have the box and not an individual sparkler in the photo below. That’s because I used them all before I took the photo!
Not only were these the lightest of the sparklers and super easy to draw with, they lasted longer than any of the metal sparklers of the same length. Also, I like the line they create. It’s very concise and clear, and the colors are sharp.
Overall: This was one of my favorites. These bamboo sparklers are lightweight, lasted longer than the metal sparklers of the same length, and make a line that is easy to control and see. The line may be too sharp for some people and certainly doesn’t look as artsy as the more drippy sparklers. However, if you’re wanting to draw a lot of letters or leave the focus on people in the photograph, I recommend trying these.
Sparkler #5: Lil’ Patriot 10″ Metal Sparklers
These just didn’t do much for me. Another one of the more basic metal sparklers, I was disappointed in the smoothness of the line and brightness. The line seemed more choppy than with other sparklers. Although I liked the actual color of the sparklers, there wasn’t much brightness.
Overall: Meh. If this is all you can find, it’ll be fine for your sparkler photos. Just move more slowly and let the color build up more as you go. I think that will add some vibrancy and smooth the line out more. I did really like the darker color for some variety and like that it’s a nice and warm tone. However, this one just wasn’t my favorite.
Sparkler #6: World-Class Fireworks Fluorescent Sparklers
Okay, I’m really confused about these fluorescent sparklers. I was super excited about them and thought they would provide some unique bright colors to my sparkler photos. The packaging and the actual sparklers themselves are awesome. They are bright and come in fluorescent pink, blue, yellow, orange, and green. I used the blue sparkler for the line and the pink sparkler for the heart. But, anyone else notice that they look the same in both of the photos? Yep, apparently the sparklers are only fluorescent before they are lit and then are just like normal sparklers. I paid a little more for these and was so excited about them, so I was just confused and disappointed when they didn’t light up as an actual color.
My original disappointment aside, the non-fluorescent color is vibrant and the line is a little choppy but very clear and concise. They are completely acceptable for use for sparkler photos, but I just can’t get over the fluorescent thing.
Overall: These are fine sparklers, but they don’t light fluorescent which was a big disappointment for me. The bottom line on these is that they were more expensive than regular sparklers and had fewer sparklers in the package, but the end result was a normal sparkler photo. If the line and color and vibrancy were amazing even despite the fluorescent issue, I would say to go for it. Unfortunately, these were just okay and nothing special for sparkler photos.
Sparkler #7: Lil’ Patriot 14″ Crackling Sparklers
These were one of the biggest surprises out of all the sparklers I tested. My confession? I almost deleted these photos in my editing program because I thought they were blank test photos. The color on these is the lightest of all the sparklers I tested, so much so that you can barely see the line. The color is warm which I like and the effect of the crackling sparklers is actually kind of unique, if only you could see them better.
Overall: These just don’t give off enough light for me to recommend. It’s unfortunate because, when you can see the pattern, the crackling effect is neat and different from the rest of the ones I tried. The color is warm and nice. If they were just brighter, I think they would be awesome. They aren’t bright enough so, unless this is the specific look you’re going for, I would choose something brighter and easier to see in your sparkler photos.
Sparkler #8: Lil’ Patriot 18″ Tri Color Sparklers
I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about these. The tri color sparkler has three colors in just one sparkler which is neat. I only showed the first two colors in my photos. The first “color” in the tri color sparkler is shown with the wavy line, and the second color is the red which I used to draw the heart.
The wavy line is comparable with a lot of the other sparklers. It’s bright and mostly smooth but nothing super unique. The second color, the red, is where this sparkler really shines. The red was incredibly bright and gives a different effect. I think some people will love the look the red gives off and others will hate it, but it’s unique regardless.
Overall: This sparkler was different, and I liked that about it. Since the tri color sparkler was a bit more expensive than the basic metal ones, I would plan to use it where the second color, red, could be the feature of the photo. What we did in this case, was light the sparkler and then wait outside the frame until it burned through to the red, and then we started the photo and drawing. It’s a bit of a waste of the sparkler, but it might be worth it if you’re looking for a super bright, red sparkler. You’ll also notice that you can really see me in this photo. If you look near the bottom edges, you’ll see where my legs were. This is pretty easily fixed in editing programs, but it might also not be something you want to mess with. The sparkler is so crazy bright that it lights up more around it.
Sparkler #9: World-Class Fireworks 21″ Gold Sparklers
This sparkler was 21″ long and was the longest of the sparklers I tested. It’s called a gold sparkler and, although I initially mocked the gold labeling as I was testing it, I can see where it is a nice warm, gold color in the photos. The color is pretty bright (but could be brighter) and I like the warmth to it. It’s a solid sparkler option for sparkler photos.
Since this sparkler was so long, it went on and on and on. We realized that we could use this sparkler for multiple 15-second photos without it sputtering out on us. I typically prefer to use one sparkler and then stop and plan my next photo, but I will admit I felt more relaxed knowing that the sparkler wouldn’t stop before I finished drawing and liked that it seemed to provide a consistent line while it was burning and didn’t sputter out on me.
Overall: This sparkler isn’t particularly unique, but I liked it. That being said, it kept burning way after the photo was finished making me feel like I was wasting it. It could be used for multiple photos without burning out though, which is nice if that’s part of your photo plan. If you want a longer-lasting sparkler that’s pretty steady and doesn’t sputter out or fade too much while it continues to burn, this is a great choice. If you’re doing up to 30-second shutter speeds and stopping between each photo, this length is a bit overkill and can feel wasteful.
I definitely have some favorites between all of the sparklers, but it’s important to note that the best sparkler for sparkler photos will largely depend on your preferences and your goal with the photos. In light of that, take my comments into consideration but also choose depending on which test photos you like best.
My personal favorite was Sparkler #4: Lil’ Patriot 10″ Bamboo Sparklers. When I was testing them, I didn’t notice how much I liked this one at first, but I kept going back to it each time. It was lightweight and fun to draw with, and I really like the brightness and style of the line it gives off. If you can’t find the bamboo sparklers, the next similar option was Sparkler #3: World-Class Fireworks Color Sparklers. These weren’t my favorite, but they are a solid choice and are inexpensive since they are one of the basic metal sparklers. The downside (or upside for some!) of these is the variety of colors in one box. If I’m just playing, that’s awesome. If I’m wanting a specific or consistent look, that could create a challenge.
The sparkler I’m most conflicted about is Sparkler #1: Big Fireworks No. 10 Color Sparklers. These are the drippiest of all the sparklers. I initially really didn’t like the drippy look and it can be really tough to draw with. Words and letters in particular can run together with this style of sparkler, and the drippiness can be really distracting if I’m trying to leave the focus on people in a photo and just jazz it up a bit with the sparkler. However, the more I look at the heart version of this sparkler, the more I like the artsy feel to it. If I were just doing the sparkler by itself (no people), I think this would be a great option and makes a nice photo since the drippiness helps take up more of the frame. So, I’m conflicted on this one, but I think it definitely has a purpose in sparkler photos.
The last notable mention is for Sparkler #8: Lil’ Patriot 18″ Tri Color Sparklers. Again, not my overall favorite, but the red color is unique and could make for a fun photo. If you try this one, be extra cautious with shadows and getting people in the photo though. The red color in this sparkler is super bright and that extra light shows more in the photo, including the person drawing.
A quick note on sparkler size: I originally thought longer sparklers would be better for sparkler photos since they burn longer. However, I ended up preferring the shorter (around 10″ long) sparklers. I had plenty of time with most of the shorter sparklers to draw the hearts and lines, and I didn’t feel like I was wasting the sparkler. The longer ones burned way after the photo was finished, and then I just had to let them burn out. So, for me, I’ll continue to go with the shorter ones because they fit the quick drawing I was trying to do in the 15-second shutter speeds. Also, they’re cheaper than the longer ones, so I get more sparklers for the money! That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the longer ones, so consider how much you want to draw and how long you think it will take and choose length that way.
Go out and try that sparkler photo! It can be super fun (and addicting!), and you really can’t go wrong. It’s meant to be fun and creative, and it’s a great thing to try with family or friends during the July 4th holiday. If you have any sparklers that weren’t tested that you love for sparkler photos, feel free to share them in the comments!