We wave sparklers around and enjoy the shimmering trails, but photographers can add a touch of creative flare by recording the patterns they make, or even write your name or a message.
You need a camera with a long exposure mode - ideal one with a B setting and a remote release to lock the shutter open. Nikon's D800 and D600 have this feature or, alternatively, most SLRs have a manual exposure option that usually goes down to 30 seconds, which should give you enough time to write something.
The camera needs to be still so you should rest it on a solid surface or, better still, mount it on a tripod.
It's cold at this time of the year so you should wrap up warm. You may find it helpful to have a torch too... and of course you'll need a pack of sparklers and don't forget some matches to light the sparklers. And lastly you will need a helper to write in the air with the sparkler, unless you plan on doing a self portrait like I did.
Step 1: Position Your Helper
Ask your helper to stand in an open space. The background isn't too important because it's going to be dark and you wont see it. Just make sure there isn't a street light or window light to distract. All you need is enough space to be able to write the message. They should face the camera, and will be writing the message backwards in the air so it reads the correct way on the photo.
Step 2: Set The Camera Up And Focus
Set the camera up on the solid surface and focus on the person. If the camera cannot focus in the dark use your torch to light the person up so the camera can adjust.
Step 3: Trial Run To Gauge Space Needed
Ask the person to practice writing their message. If they can't do it backwards don't worry, you can flip it in your image editing program, but make sure the person doesn't have slogans or tell tale pics on their clothing or they will also be flipped in the final pic. Then do a test run without a lit sparkler so you can see how much air space is covered, while checking that the time taken doesn't exceed the exposure time of the camera. Make sure you have a wide enough lens to get it all in. If you can't see the whole message through the viewfinder and can't set the lens any wider either ask the person to write smaller or move further away from the camera.
Step 4: Take The Shot
Get the camera ready to shoot. Set an aperture of f/8 to start with. And the shutter speed at 30sec if you're not using the B-setting. Light a sparkler. Fire the shutter and ask the assistant to start writing. Write in an even flow in a joined up style so the trail is smooth through the message.
Step 5: Check Results
Check the result. Depending on camera model it will take anything up to 30seconds to process. If the message is not neat, show the assistant so they know how to improve the flow. If the trail is too dark and thin ask them to write slower or open up the aperture. If it's too bright and thick, ask them to write faster or close the aperture down.
Step 6: Try Again Using Flash
You will notice that all you see is the message, the background, and the person writing will be in darkness. If you prefer to see the writer, fire a small flashgun just before the end of the trail to illuminate the person. Cameras with built in flash that have a rear curtain sync mode are ideal for this aspect, as the flash automatically fires at the end of the exposure. If you don't have a flash you can use your torch to paint light onto the person., providing they stay still. The good thing with digital is you can check results and take another with modifications to your technique and keep doing so until you perfect the shot.