The Dangers of Using Real Sparklers in your Photoshoots (And Learn How to Achieve this Look in Photoshop Instead!)

You may have recently noticed the releases of our Sparkler & Shine – Overlay and Photoshop Action Collection, Sparkler & Shimmer – Overlay and Photoshop Action Collection, and Sparkler & Say – Overlay and Photoshop Action Collection. This sparked (get it?! get it?!) quite a bit of controversy on one of our posts showing a before and after image using a sparkler overlay. While the sparklers shot for the overlays are absolutely real, some didn’t get why photographers couldn’t just use real sparklers in their photographs or why we felt the need for this collection. While we certainly would never say you could/should never do it in camera, there were a lot of valid points in the debate about the dangers of using real sparklers in your photoshoots. As a professional photographer, you really have to look out for the needs of your clients, and that means keeping them safe as well.

Sparklers are one of the most dangerous photography props you could get your hands on. Especially at weddings, they are used to create a beautiful scene, but behind the beauty lurks a real risk. A huge number of people are injured by sparklers every year – and, sadly, most of them are children. Because of this, sparklers are actually illegal in some places.

If they are legal in your area, you should not only be aware of it’s dangers, but whether or not you and your clients are covered under liability insurance should anything happen. Here are some of the main dangers of sparklers which you need to watch out for:


Burning your hands

Sparklers get hot – very hot. Picking them up at the wrong end, even after they have gone out, can result in severe burns. This is especially true for children – those who are very young might try to catch the sparks in their hand, or touch it to see what it feels like.

Adult supervision is not always enough to make sure that young hands stay unburned. The scars of those burns may stay with a child through their whole lives, and could even result in serious damage to underlying tissue. What is more, you will also be putting yourself and any other present adults at risk. If you jump in to try to help a burned child, your first instinct may be to grab the sparkler away from them – which will be bad news for you.

Even lighting the sparklers can result in injury to your hands. If one lights up a little too suddenly or ferociously, it may burn the hand with the match or the hand holding the sparkler. Not all fireworks are created equal, and a fault in the manufacturing process can turn something that seems harmless into a real hazard.

Burning your hands will also be a serious issue for you. You could end up losing work if you cannot use one or both of your hands. For a freelance photographer or business owner, this means serious financial consequences.


Setting hair on fire

When your hair gets touched by a sparkler, things will happen very fast. Hair is dry, and may also be made more flammable by hair products such as sprays, mousses, or gels. This makes a recipe for disaster when it comes into contact with an open flame.

As the name suggests, sparklers do not only burn, but they also let off sparks. This means that they do not have to be quite touching you in order to do damage. Getting too close could see the end of your hair.

For women with long hair, this can be quite devastating. Huge amounts can be burned away in a matter of moments, before anyone is able to intervene and put the fire out. Even worse are the situations where short hair goes up in flames, as it is closer to the scalp and will therefore start to burn your head and face more quickly.

When children are holding sparklers, they may not necessarily have full control over how they hold them. They may move in unpredictable ways. This can spell danger both for themselves and for others. The same is true of drunken guests at wedding parties!

As a photographer, your attention is through the lens. You may not notice when someone comes up too close behind you with a sparkler. That is, until it is far too late. The consequences can be terrible here, particularly if the flame catches and spreads to clothing or covers skin.


The spread of fire when many are lit at once

Brian Mullins is another photographer who fell afoul of sparklers during a photoshoot. His story went viral with titles such as “How Arranging a Sparkler Exit Almost Cost Me My Career As A Wedding Photographer” and it is actually what inspired us at Summerana to create a safe set of sparkler overlays.

He was covering a wedding when the guests started to get their sparklers ready for the bride and groom’s walk. As is customary, he lit the sparklers himself, holding them all in one hand together. He was not prepared for what happened next.

Unfortunately, when a large amount of sparklers are lit very close together, the flame can spread and jump right the way down the metal sticks which hold them. This means that the hottest part of the sparkler is now right on your hand. It happens in an instant, and once it takes hold, you cannot stop it from burning you.

Although he was a true professional and carried on shooting, he knew right away that something was wrong. The pain in his hand was intense, and he decided to get some cold water to treat the burns. That was when he found out that his fingers were in fact charred.

It took six weeks for him to recover from the painful second and third degree burns, which covered a large portion of his right hand. During that time, he was not able to work.

One of the main problems which faces photoshoots with sparklers is that there is more than one type of sparkler. Those used in weddings should have long stems, should burn without smoke, should also have a bright light, and ought to burn yellow. They are much safer to use than the shorter stemmed kind which have a lot of smoke – though neither type is completely safe.


Dealing with a heat five times hotter than cooking oil

It is also very difficult to realize just how dangerous sparklers can be if you see them as just a baby firework. Actually, they burn five times hotter than cooking oil. That is a very intense heat, and we all know how bad the burns from cooking oil can be.

Would you let your child mess around with a spoon full of hot cooking oil? How about setting up some buckets of it around your photoshoot? We understand the dangers of something like that, and so we are sensible with it. With sparklers, we have a blind spot. Make sure that you take responsibility when it comes to the dangers of sparklers. If something is not safe, it should not be in your photoshoot and endangering you and your clients – period.


Setting locations on fire

Finally, imagine the scene of a wedding reception. The bride wears a beautiful, sweeping dress with a train. The venue has long curtains around the windows, and swathes of light fabric wrapped around chairs and banisters. Can you sense a theme yet?

All it takes is one trip and stumble or one accidentally dropped sparkler to set your photoshoot location on fire. This can have disastrous results, particularly if you are in a very flammable area. What about using sparklers in a woodland area? Some photographers like to decorate their portrait sessions for children with draped fabric to create a pretty and easy backdrop. There is so much that could go wrong once a sparkler is thrown into the mix.


How to Achieve this Look in Photoshop Instead:

With all of these reasons to be wary, keeping sparklers out of your photoshoot repertoire from now on may be the way forward. Using Sparkler overlays and Photoshop actions to recreate their effects will not prevent you from losing out on the artistic effects, and will keep both you and your clients safe. It will even save you and your clients time by not having to go through tons of sparklers and pictures trying to capture the look or message you are trying to go for. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to up-sell/cross-sell to previous clients as you can later add sparkler overlays to images for print for the Holidays. And of course if you or your party do decide to use sparklers, be sure to use proper safety precautions.



If you’d like to achieve this look in Photoshop instead, you can apply overlays of Sparklers already shot in a safe environment. Your clients will not need to be put in harm’s way, and they just might be fascinated with how you did it after the shoot! Using our Sparkler & Shine, Sparkler & Shimmer, or Sparkler & Say overlay and action collections in Photoshop, you’ll be able to effortlessly apply your overlays with applicator actions, turn your your photos into night time with the night prep actions, edit your firework sparklers by customizing their color, adding blur, sparkler glow, etc. and so much more with the included action collection.You can create swirls, messages, and more around your posed clients.

Watch it in action here:

If you have used a sparkler overlay for your images, why not show them off? We’d love to see them, so add your links to the comments below! Also tell us, are sparklers legal in your state/country?

About Rhiannon D'Averc
Rhiannon D'Averc is a portrait photographer at PCI Studio which is based in Tonbridge, Kent. She has experience in areas such as teen shoots,maternity, fashion, beauty, and portraiture. She also holds a degree in Photography from the University of Hertfordshire.
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