Portrait Tips: Sparkler Portraits

Portrait Tips: Sparkler Portraits

Shooting fireworks is one of the most fun things to do on the 4th of July, but it’s also a great way to spoil your family’s fun. While everyone else is trying to enjoy the show, you’re swearing at your camera and running around trying to get another angle, while your partner is arguing with kids throwing potato salad at each other.

Fortunately, there’s a great way to redeem yourself: Sparkler portraits. Can’t wait to make these this year – last year we were in a forest and couldn’t use sparklers for fire hazard.


Remember that you are trying to make a fun activity for the kids, so don’t get stuck and focus on getting the perfect shot. Let the kids have fun – they will surprise you with their creativity. Put the ideas away for next week when the sparklers are half price and you can spend some time with a model to get the perfect shot. Now just let the kids have fun and don’t let them burn each other. Camera settings

The key to getting these photos is time, so shutter speed is your creative setting and you’ll be adjusting everything else to give you the time you need to get the kids to make shapes and spell their names.

Start here:

  • Manual mode
  • Shutter speed: 3 seconds
  • Aperture: f/8
  • ISO value: 100
  • White Balance: Daylight
  • Focus on the kids and then switch to manual focus

Do the children need more time? Slow down the shutter speed.

Is the image too bright? Make the aperture smaller – f/11, f/16, f/22

Need more light in the background? Raise the ISO a bit.

Add flash

Adding flash with sparkling portraits is where this gets really fun. The flash freezes the child’s face and creates a sharp shot where the lights are blurred all over. Read this article for complete instructions on how to use your flash.


These are photos of my kids practicing this technique with flashlights in the living room this morning. They had fun for about 15 minutes and then got tired of me telling them what to do. But tomorrow night with friends, they’ll love telling the other neighborhood kids how cool it will be and they’ll help set up the pictures.

Ideas to try with a sparkler

  • Have a child write his name
  • Draw crazy shapes with the light
  • Draw smileys
  • Have several children each write one letter of a word – it will be backwards, but go with it
  • Draw a sketch of something else, such as a car
  • Have several children dance around one child who remains still and is flashed

Can’t wait to see your results. Upload them to the Photofocus Facebook group and tag me. For more ideas, check out my course on Viewbug, “Ten portraits with one light.”

Portrait tips come out every week, and you see them all here.