The wedding sparkler exit is an iconic pastime of wedding photographers, and it's a lot easier than people think! After the cheers have settled, the last note of ‘jump’ has faded into the background, and the last piece of confetti has floated down to find its home on the sticky dance floor, comes the big bride and groom exit.
With inevitable last minute changes, unpredictable lighting, and drunken partygoers, this can be a daunting part of the evening for photographers.
One of the most popular trends in bride and groom exits today is the sparkler exit. When these photos turn out, the result can be stunning. Taken poorly, and the exit photos (quite literally) can go up in flames.
We’ve taken advice from our photographers in the field, and done our research to come up with a few tried and true tips for making your sparkler exit photos maintain their wedding day magic. Thank you to all the photographers in our Mastin Labs – Community Facebook group for the advice!
How to Photograph a Sparkler Exit
The most important piece of advice we can offer is to be prepared. There are many ways to capture the sparkler exit. Take into consideration your gear, level of experience, and timeline, and decide on your plan of attack before showing up to the wedding. It goes without saying that using a camera with low-light capabilities is recommended for sparkler exits.
If you don’t have one, make sure you’re equipped with the necessary lighting to get your shot. If you’ve never done a sparkler exit before, practice with cheap sparklers from the dollar store ahead of time.
Being prepared will mean you need to slip away from the reception early to scope out the path of exit and get your gear calibrated for the available light, or get external lighting set up. Ideally, see if you can steal the couple away before their big exit to get a few test shots and get some creative shots with just them and a few sparklers.
How to Prepare the Bride and Groom for Their Sparkler Exit
If the couple tells you before the big day that they will have a sparkler exit, take the opportunity to suggest that they purchase the longest sparklers possible. Longer sparklers have a more extended burn rate and cast more ambient light on the group. Short sparklers can cast a harsher light, burn quickly, and be more of a fire hazard because the flame is in the crowd rather than high above it.
Communicate with the wedding planner and ask them to give you a heads-up before the couple comes out. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard, one step behind and hot on their heels. Also, communicate with your couple and tell them how to exit to best get the shot you want.
For the best chance of nailing the shot ask your couple to:
- Plan the sparkler exit away from harsh lighting such as the entryway lights or streetlights.
- Pause a few times through the procession. Have them pause at the top of the path and strike a pose so you can take a quick test shot before rapid fire as they exit down the rest of the path. Suggest a dramatic kiss, or that they wave to their friends and family.
- Mastin Labs user, Gurinder Singh Paul suggests having the couple stop about ¾ of the way through the sparkler line, that way they’re well lit from all directions.
- Walk slowly and enjoy the last moments of the reception. Tell them to resist the urge to run.
- Redo the exit. If you failed to get the shot, yell “Encore!” and wave them back to the start, encouraging them to enjoy themselves and do it again. Many couples love to bask in the attention for a few extra moments before taking off.
Lighting Methods For Shooting A Sparkler Exit at a Wedding
Shooting A Sparkler Exit with Only Sparkler Lights
This is a popular method for capturing the natural glow of the sparklers. To use the sparkler light alone, adjust your ISO to the light from the sparklers, adjusting for the ambient glow while maintaining the fastest shutter speed possible in those conditions. Adjust your camera to the ambient light of the sparklers as they’re being lit and the guests are lining up outside. Taking these test shots ahead of time gives you a chance to calibrate your gear, and capture the genuine emotion of the guests as they anticipate the bride and groom exit.
Mastin user, Molly Lichten got this shot using a 50mm lens at ISO 3200 f/1.6, 1/200 sec. edited with Mastin Labs Fuji 400H Presets.
Photo Credit: Molly Lichten | Preset: Fuji 400HN
Shooting a Sparkler Exiting Using Only Ambient Light and Sparkler Lights
If the venue is in a tent, or if the couple has soft lighting in their path of exit, using it can be a great way to get good sparkler exit images. Here’s an example of one image that was taken by Mastin Labs user, Jennifer Hawkins using only the light from the sparklers, and the soft lighting from string lights on the roof of the venue. She shot her Cannon 5Diii with the sigma art 35mm lens at ISO 4000, f/1.4 and 1/100 sec. She also manually adjusted the white balance using Kelvin 2500.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Hawkins | Preset: Portra 400
Some exits happen when it is still partially light outside. While total darkness yields a more dramatic image, you can get a beautiful effect before the sun has fully set. For example, Mastin Labs user, Stephanie Mballo took this image when it was still partially light outside to get a well lit, lovely effect. She took this image at ISO 4000, f/2 and 1/160 sec.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Mball | Preset: Fuji 400HN
Shooting a Sparkler Exit with On Camera Flash
This is usually the safest route for capturing a shot that works. It’s less technically challenging and leaves less room for error. If you use an on-camera flash, adjust to a lower ISO with a moderate shutter speed to get a sharp photo. Fine-tune your shutter speed to your camera’s light meter and shoot. Mastin Labs user, Gillian Martin got this shot using ISO 100 f/2.0, 1/100 sec on her Canon. She used only her camera’s flash.
Photo Credit: Gillian Martin
If you have a second shooter, take advantage of that! Shoot your images without a flash, and have them shoot with a flash. This will give you two sets of photos with two different looks, and give you room to be more creative knowing that you have a backup.
Shooting a Sparkler Exit With an External Flash
This can be the most complicated way to capture the sparkler exit, but the images can turn out striking. Only choose this approach if you have experience doing wireless flash photography. If you decide to use external flashes, the best route is to set up two or more flashes. Set one along the side of the path of exit, and the other at the end of the path, faced toward it. For the most diffused lighting, set them 5-10 feet off the path and angled toward the path.
Sparkler Exit Troubleshooting
If you are struggling with your Sparkler exit, it might be an easy fix. Here are our tips for overcoming common sparkler exit issues.
Blurry: If the couple is moving too much or your camera is out of focus, ask the couple to hold a pose that they can maintain for a few seconds without struggling to stay still. If this doesn’t solve the problem, try reducing the ambient light.
Backlit: If the couple is backlit, try changing their position slightly so that they’re lit from the front, or give them a pair of sparklers and have them hold the sparklers off to the side so the light is reflected off their faces.
Unfocused: If the camera is having trouble distinguishing the foreground from the background, help the camera focus by having the couple hold a bright phone screen or light next to their faces, focus your camera on that light, put it into manual focus mode, and keep it there.
Have some advice or a question on capturing a sparkler exit? Join the conversation in our Mastin Labs – Community group!