Photographing a Sparkler Exit
How to Take Sparkler Photos that Brides Will Love
After the reception, the bride and groom have told you that they want their grand exit through a tunnel of sparklers. These after-dark fireworks create a very typical night photography problem: artificial brightness of great intensity in the context of medium level ambient lighting. You could flood the scene with enough light to mimic high noon but you would lose the contrast of light and dark that makes the sparkler departure something special. So, what camera settings and lighting can you use so that you capture the energy of the moment in a beautiful image?
Place a strobe light on a stand at the place where the couple will begin their sparkler exit. Using a remote, set off the strobe as the couple walks through the lines of sparklers. It creates a wonderful glow and is bright enough to overcome the ambient lighting on the people, leaving more sparkler and less distracting ambient lighting on the holders.
You don’t want to lose the darkness but you also don’t want to lose the couple. Using an off camera flash on a manual setting can add just enough light to the couple without destroying the night ambience. You can also use a soft box / diffuser for your flash to help bounce the light toward the couple since none will be coming back to you from the open sky. What you want most from your flash is to illuminate the bride and groom and no one else – after all, it is their wedding send off not a group photo.
Exits are fast; even if you have the couple stop for a kiss you still want to capture the animation and movement associated with an exit. Unless they are heading down a quarter mile runway you’ll find you don’t have much time to get the right shot in the right light. Bumping your ISO up to 6400 (or higher) will help you to capture enough light while still having a sufficiently fast shutter speed to allow for hand held shooting.
Opening up your aperture lets more light in and allows you to bump up your shutter speed at the same time. This is where it’s great to have a really fast lens like the 50mm F1.2 so that you can get your shutter up to 1/125 or higher. Part of this will depend on whether you want to ‘freeze’ the motion of the couple or if you want to catch some of the blur of movement. You may want to get a second shooter to work with the alternate setting so that you can have both options.
Remember, the sparklers will read as blown highlights, but you don’t have to worry about that, after all, they are supposed to be bright. The key is to make sure that they stand out from the surrounding darkness AND that you capture the bride and groom.
Truly the best thing that you can do involves something beyond technology – and is the reason why people hire a professional (and the reason that professional turns to photography tutorials) – and that is to practice, practice, practice.