that are launched by professionals who, by the way, are called
pyrotechnicians are classified as Display Fireworks,
and are sometimes known as Class B fireworks. How to photograph
display fireworks is the subject of the other two articles in our Fourth
of July Special Report. Chances are youll never come too close
to Display Fireworks, but you may well encounter Consumer Fireworks
(also known as Class C fireworks). These are the fireworks
you can purchase at roadside stands in many parts of the country.
Consumer Fireworks Are Readily Available
According to records compiled by the American Pyrotechnics Association,
only 8 states completely ban consumer fireworks. Of the other 42, 4 allow
only sparklers and novelties, 20 allow safe and sane fireworks,
and 18 allow nearly all consumer fireworks. Bear in mind that within each
state, local counties or cities may have more restrictive laws. Researching
this article, we found two very good Web sites www.pyrouniverse.com
created by a fireworks enthusiast, and www.americanpyro.com, the official
site of the American Pyrotechnics Association, the trade association for
fireworks that has been around since 1948. You can find out the applicable
statewide laws for your state, and lots more about fireworks, their history,
and important safety tips by visiting these two sites.
Were not sure of the precise definitions of novelties
or safe and sane fireworks. But we do know that no fireworks
are safe unless theyre used sanely. Were
certainly not advocating the use of fireworks that are not legal in your
We also must point out that large explosive fireworks so-called
cherry bombs, M-80s and the like - have been outlawed by Federal
Law for over thirty years. These are not fireworks. They are explosives
and should not be used by individuals under any circumstances.
So, unless youre in one of the eight states than ban consumer fireworks,
and if you are going to enjoy backyard fireworks show this 4th of July,
and as long as the show is conducted by safety-conscious adults
you can take several different types of cool photographs. Lets look
Even the most restrictive states allow sparklers. These are usually thin
metal rods coated with a combination of fuel, an oxidizer, powdered metal
usually iron, steel, or aluminum that creates the sparks, and a
binder to hold all this stuff onto the rod. Sparklers produce a continuously
burning trail of bright yellow or colored sparks. Since the burn time
of a sparkler may be 30 seconds or more, this gives us the opportunity
to do what photographers call painting with light.
Painting with light is usually done with a flashlight or some other movable
light source. In that case, the light source itself isnt usually
visible; it is only used to illuminate the subject. With sparklers, the
light source becomes part of the subject matter as well.
Before we get to our How To tips, let us interject a safety
note sparklers, while they are widely available, are among the
leading causes of fireworks injuries. Perhaps that is in part because
they are so widely available, that they lead the list. Typically, the
danger to avoid is burns from a sparkler while it is sparkling, or from
the super hot metal rod that remains after the sparkler has burned out.
As Colin Bradley, the author of www.pyrouniverse.com so eloquently puts
it: I don't get why
anyone would hand their toddler a
1000 degree rod of burning hot metal in the first place. Think about
it.... Would you let your kid play with a stove? A clothes iron? A blowtorch?
Of course not. As with any other consumer product, if someone uses it
THE WRONG WAY, they'll get hurt.
Lets look at some simple examples of sparkler photographs first.
Here we see a child twirling a sparkler. This picture was taken in late
twilight near darkness. The camera was mounted on a tripod to keep
it steady during a long exposure, and auto focus was turned off. The child
is asked to stay in one place and the photographer focuses on the child
before the sparkler is lit. An adult lights the sparkler, and kids, doing
what they do best, start to experiment.
If the child just moves the sparkler around in front of his/her face,
as in the photograph on the right, the result is not too interesting.
We see the trails of the burning sparkler, but the childs face has
With a little direction, the child sweeps her arm to create an arc that
fills more of the frame. As you can see, the child is watching the sparkler,
so while the sparkler illuminates her face, it is blurred because she
moved her head. With more experimentation, you can create a wide variety
of effects. For example, you can write your name, or another word using
the sparkler as a pen. However, this requires some thought because if
you just spell out your name, it will appear backwards to the camera.
How to overcome this? The hard way is to write your name in mirror form.
The easier trick is to turn your back to the camera and write your name
the regular way, but if you do that, make sure to hold the sparkler high
over your head, so that your body does not block any of the letters.
As with all photographs of this sort, the key is experimentation and taking
several photographs to see which ones work out.
Here weve added a second sparkler and asked the subject to twirl
These pictures were made using auto exposure with a film-based camera.
They can be accomplished just as easily with a digital camera and you
have the benefit of being able to delete the unsuccessful experiments.
As weve discussed, to make these pictures you need a tripod and
someone to handle the sparkler. Now, if you can add another person to
help, you can make a photo like this:
In this interesting photo, the woman that we see outlined by the sparkler
is standing still. Thats why she appears to be in sharp focus. The
sparkler is being held by a third person who is standing behind the subject
and who carefully outlines her torso. This was very precisely executed:
the assistant moving the sparkler cant be seen at all. The illumination
was made in a single pass, starting with the sparkler close to the ground,
moving up to outline the figure and then back down the other leg to the
ground. There was probably some additional burn time left on the sparker
so the assistant held the sparkler close to the ground until it burned
out. That would explain the very bright area we see between the subjects
legs. During this entire period, the subject held her scarecrow-like pose.
Again, safety is very important here. Thats why the assistant stands
behind the subject and keeps the burning sparkler well away from the subjects
body. Remember, safety is paramount.
For the record, NYI Student Christa Rose made this photo using a Nikon
N-80 with a 28-80mm zoom lens and Kodak 400 ISO Color Negative film.
Photographs of Light Showers
Other types of consumer fireworks, such as those that make small pops,
like bottle rockets, or slender backyard Roman Candles will probably not
make interesting-looking photographs. But the type of fountain display
that is fired on the ground can provide some excellent opportunities for
making very interesting pictures.
Once again, these photographs can be taken using automatic exposure with
the camera mounted on a tripod. Keep at least 8 to 10 feet away from the
shower and use your zoom to fill the frame with the colorful eruptions.
If you like, you can use your cameras pop-up flash to toss a little
light on the scene.
Here you can see two similar photographs, the one on the left was taken
without using the on-camera flash; the one on the right was taken using
the cameras flash. You can see the cardboard tube of the display
is clearly visible on the right-hand photo.
These photographs are interesting to look at on their own, but they can
also be scanned into digital form and used with the addition of type for
party invitations, or combined with other images to make photo illustrations.
For example, our digital expert Jim Barthman combined some firework photos
with a saxophone to come up with this interesting image (below left.)
Heres another illustration (above right) that Jim created from three
Once you collect some interesting looking images, what you can create
is limited only by your imagination.
Enjoy the Fourth of July, and if you take some interesting photos, dont
hesitate to send low resolution versions to us at FourthofJuly@nyip.com.
Have a safe and sane holiday.
And, let us close as we began, with safety uppermost. To help you celebrate
safely this Fourth of July, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and
the National Council on Fireworks Safety offer the following safety tips:
Always read and follow label directions
Always have an adult present
Only buy from reliable fireworks sellers
Only ignite fireworks outdoors
Be sure to have water handy
Never experiment or attempt to make your own
Light only one at a time
Never re-ignite malfunctioning fireworks
Never give fireworks to small children
Store fireworks in a cool, dry place
Dispose of fireworks properly
Never throw fireworks at another person
Never carry fireworks in your pocket
Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers