THE USE OF PYROTECHNICS IN LIGHT PAINTING
WHICH PYROTECHNICS ARE SUITABLE?
In principle, you can capture any kind of fireworks in a photo. In order to achieve effective effects in light painting, you should not indiscriminately shoot around with the big New Year’s rockets in the picture, but rather use smaller firework items. In the cover picture we used a small volcano (Keller Vesuvius). These small volcanoes and fountains also have the advantage that you don’t get poor if the picture doesn’t turn out right on the first try. The prices for these small volcanoes range from 40 cents to 1 euro. Even in the area of youth fireworks, which can be freely bought and used all year round, you can find some very interesting things for light painting.
Ice fountains are the simplest and smallest variant. We used one of these for the gun in this picture. The fountains are explicitly intended for indoor use, they do not produce toxic smoke. For the sparks from the UFO, we used a small cat. 1 volcano (Dwarf Uprising from Pyroart). These small volcanoes are sold in several colours as a box of 10. The price for the box is about 6€. Other manufacturers also have such small luminous articles in their assortment.
Sparklers, gold and silver rain, coloured flares, summer fountains and similar things can also be used well in light painting and light art photography. Another advantage of these small fireworks: they make very little noise. So I don’t annoy people or animals when I use them. Also in the area of New Year’s Eve fireworks (class 2), you should make sure when buying them that they don’t make too much noise, especially if you want to use them outside of New Year’s Eve.
Apart from the things mentioned above, we like to use Roman lights in our light painting pictures. However, these are always cat. 2, so they may only be traded and burnt on New Year’s Eve. Roman lights are available in many different designs and colours. In the picture below I have burnt 2 12-shot ones from Keller.
A good online shop is Feuerwerksvitrine, reasonable prices and there is a little video for almost everything.
APPERTURE, ISO, TIME
Pyrotechnics usually burn very brightly. Since we usually choose a very low ISO value in light painting in order to keep the image noise as low as possible, ISO 50 to 200 is already the right range for photographing pyrotechnics at this point. The aperture varies between 8 and 16 depending on the focal length, the fireworks used and the distance between the camera and the fireworks. You should not overdo it with the exposure time. The cellar Vesuvius in the picture above burns for quite a long time. If I had exposed the entire burning time, it would have burnt out for sure. So I lit the volcano, started shooting and then uncovered the lens for 2 turns. Usually only test shots help to determine the correct settings. If it is still too bright even at the lowest ISO value and aperture 16, an ND filter helps to tame the fireworks. It becomes even more difficult if you want to capture other lights as well. The simplest option is to use the brightesAt possible lamps to keep the difference in brightness to the fireworks as small as possible.
SAFETY, FIRE PROTECTION, LEGAL
Pyrotechnics are always fun, even if the picture is not a masterpiece. But here, too, you should think for a moment about safety, fire prevention and possibly the legality of what you are doing before you pull out the lighter.
In Germany, fireworks are divided into different categories (§3a Explosives Act). This determines the purpose, the period of use, the place of use and the group of people who are allowed to use the fireworks.
Cat. 1 – Smallest fireworks, youth fireworks or similar. These may be sold and used without time limit to persons over 12 years of age.
Cat. 2 – New Year’s Eve fireworks. This may be purchased by persons over 18 years of age from 28 to 31 December and may only be used on New Year’s Eve. Holders of a certificate of competence according to §20 of the Explosives Act may also use them outside this period. However, the responsible authorities must be notified beforehand, just as with the use of cat. 3 and 4. On special occasions (weddings, birthdays, etc.), persons without a licence may also purchase and set off Cat. 2 fireworks upon informal application.
Cat. 3 and 4 – may only be purchased and used by persons with a certificate of competence. The only difference is the minimum age (cat. 3 – 18 years, cat. 4 – 21 years).
Cat. T1 – theatrical or stage fireworks. The minimum age for sale and use is 18 years. However, these fireworks may only be used for the purpose of stage, theatre, show, filming or photography. So for our purposes it is actually legal.
All other categories (T2, P and S) are just as uninteresting for us light painters as 3 and 4.
The effort required for the legal use of cat.2 pyrotechnics in light painting is enormous. I don’t know of any way to get a kind of permanent permit. You would have to register it for every single painting, if you have a certificate of competence according to the Explosives Act in your pocket or if you only use expensive T1 equipment.
If you want to use pyrotechnics or fire, clear away flammable material and take a fire extinguisher and/or enough water to put it out. If you are burning pyrotechnics by hand, wear gloves. If there is a risk of a ricochet hitting your face, use a protective mask, e.g. for paintball, but at least protective goggles. A cap or hood is usually a good idea too. In any case, you should wear clothes that do not catch fire at the slightest spark.
With this in mind, I wish you good light at all times and lots of fun with the fireworks.