How To Shoot The Sparkler Exit at a Wedding and Nail it Every Time!
Today I want to focus on the one thing a lot of up and coming Wedding Photographers complain about and are scared of most.
"THE SCARIEST, MOST UNPREDICTABLE, YOU HAVE 2 SECONDS TO GET YOUR SETTINGS RIGHT, SPARKLER EXIT!"
Be calm-it's really not that scary, and you don't have to have a lot of crazy equipment to pull it off and make them look great! I start with the same general settings upon getting out there. Once the sparklers get lit I may have to change my settings slightly, because you always have to account for a little extra light. The problem is trying to balance making the couple bright enough while not making the entire image too bright, and then basically ruining or washing out the sparklers, and picking up the the haze from the smoke. Below I outline my gear, the settings I generally start with along with some tips, and some editing information.
Gear I always use for the sparkler exit:
Flash (This can be on or off camera. For the purposes of this blog entry I will talk only about on camera flash and only show examples with that.)
Gary Fong Snoot (If you don't have a snoot, you can make one with a cup and straws. This may seem ridiculous, but let's say you're reading this, and you have a sparkler exit coming up in a few days. You have no time to order one, and if you live in a small town like I do, with zero ways to get equipment fast this may be your only option. Don't worry-you can paint it and make it cute! I would recommend black straws, and you can get them at cookout lol, and black paint.)
Settings I always start with:
Shutter Speed: 1/80 or 1/100 (I keep it just fast enough for me to hand-hold on the nifty fifty. Hey! I shake sometimes, so I have to change the hand holding rules to accommodate ME lol.)
Aperture: F3.2 ( I would prefer to shoot wide open, but I've found in the past with sparkler exits that wide open is super difficult. If they are running through the sparklers you could easily miss your mark and ruin their photos. Personally stopping down to 3.2 still allows me to have some of the blurring and creative effects I want, lets in a good bit of light, and if I miss my mark it won't completely trash the photo.)
ISO: 800 or 1000
Flash: 1/64 or 1/32 (This part is really important. If the line is long, you may want to start at 1/32, and use your magically fast hands to change it to 1/64 as they approach you. Or you can learn how to run backwards as fast as they are running while holding your camera and not missing your mark lol. Make sure you snoot is on there AND pointing in the right direction. I have to hold one of my fingers underneath it to hold it up to catch their faces. My ring finger is literally the difference between life and death haha.)
What's so important about the snoot?
The snoot points the light in a specific direction. The flash itself emits the light, and without a modifier there's nothing to contain it. This causes a couple of problems:
1.) The light picks up the haze from the smoke coming off the sparklers. Now you will definitely get some haze/smoke in the shot, but you cut it down greatly when pointing the light.
2.) The light emits to everyone and not just the couple. This is personal preference, but I like that there's heavy fall-off of light by creating a vignette. Your eye focuses on the brightest part of a picture, so you've got sparklers, bright skin, most likely people wearing all sorts of different colors...it can be sensory overload and very distracting. By focusing the light on the couple you can eliminate a lot of distractions.
(Image taken in Lake Wylie, SC)
Editing the Sparkler Shots:
I start with a lightroom preset that matches the wedding or is the one I used for the rest of the wedding. Sometimes when you get to the end of the night your daytime preset will have to be adjusted to achieve a very consistent look with all of your images.
I almost always lower the blacks and sometimes the shadows.
In the above image there is nothing in the background, so hand editing the little bit of smoke out took me just a few seconds.
White balance almost always needs to come a little cooler.
I usually up the contrast and clarity, and I also lower the saturation a bit.
I add a deep vignette, and I usually do this by hand for the sparkler exit images.
(This image was taken at The River Road and Jasmine Houses and Gardens in Columbia SC.)
I hope everyone enjoyed this blog entry, and I hope it helps some people too! If you ever have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to ask!
Fine Art Wedding Photographer Based out of Rock Hill, SC
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