Ahhh… sparkler exits.
They can be so magical when done right. But they can also be very hard to photograph, which is why you must have a game plan ahead of time to make sure they’re executed correctly!
Photographing a sparkler exit takes coordination between the photographer, wedding planner, guests and the couple in order to ensure they are fun, safe and oh-so beautiful.
Here are my tips on how I photograph a sparkler (or really, any kind of) exit from a wedding reception:
There are quite a few types of sparklers out there and if you know your couple plans to do a sparkler exit, advise them to use longer ones. They will want to avoid using the short ones you can buy at the average fireworks stand because they don’t last very long and produce a ton of smoke. This smoke can prevent you from getting clear images when it’s swirling around everywhere!
By the time the exit rolls around, there’s a good chance your couple has celebrated with a few drinks and will want to run through the sparkly tunnel.
Stress to them to take their time!
As soon as the DJ announces for the guests to head out for the exit, grab you couple for a minute to say goodbye and tell them you have some advice for the best exit. I will let them know that running is super fun, but can often result in maybe only one good photo. I advise them to bask in the last few moments of their wedding day, walk through the cheers and when I give a hand signal to stop, you can do something fun like twirl, dip and kiss.
They are usually appreciative and excited for this advice so they can get more photos! I don’t force anything though once they start going through and just embrace the chaos that often ensues. Sometimes they run back and forth more than once, which always makes for lots of fun photos!
There will often be a wedding planner or coordinator already lining up the guests, but occasionally you may end up being the person to tell everyone where to go. I will say loudly (but in a smiling, friendly voice) to line up in two straight lines, close together so everyone fits. You will want the lines close enough to see both sides of sparklers in the photos, but not so close that a stray sparkler might smack the couple (or you), while walking in the middle!
*Bonus Tip: I let the guests that are by the doors (the front of the lines) know they have a special task. I will sometimes ask them to close the gap once the couple passes by them. That way there are even more sparkles behind the couple during the photos, not just on the sides!
Okay, so this one may be controversial to some photographers. Many people do an amazing job being able to walk backwards, shoot wide open to let in lots of light and manage to get everything in focus. I am not one of those people.
I love using at least two flashes for exits (one on camera and one to two off camera) to aid my focus and for adding dimension to the photo! Very often, there may be a smaller crowd and the sparklers can look a little lack luster. Adding in a pop of flash can add the pizzaz that may be missing! This is especially important if your exit involves something other than sparklers, such as confetti, petals, bubbles, etc.
On my camera, I use a magmod magsphere to diffuse the direct light on them and at least one off camera flash on a light stand. Sometimes I put the off camera flash directly behind the couple, or off to the side behind the guests at a 45 degree angle. You can see in the example photos on this post when it is behind the couple or off to the side behind the guests by looking at the shadows. If you put your flash directly behind the couple, you just have to make sure they block the light source with their bodies or you will get very hazy photos due to the light bouncing into your lens.
I always use either my 35mm lens or my 50 mm lens – this will give you enough room to capture guests having fun on the sides. My f-stop usually sits around f3.5 or a little higher and I adjust my other settings from there. You will have to play around with your shutter speed and ISO, but just remember your shutter speed can’t go past 200 with an on camera flash. I always try to keep my shutter as fast as I can since we are moving quickly. I don’t mind a little grain in my photos and my Nikon d750 can handle higher ISO pretty well.
The main thing is to have fun with these and try out different approaches! Some photographers prefer to only use ambient light, no off camera flash or some other technique. I find this is what works best for me and always produces well lit and fun exit photos!