I'm a tried and true kind of person. That's not to say I'm not creative, but I absolutely MUST deliver. I pride myself on my sparkler exit shots, and a wedding is not the time for me to get creative. You have just a couple of minutes if not just one minute to get your settings in place once the sparklers are being lit! I assure you it can be done, though, so just relax and breathe. I will walk you through my method for the "tried and true" shot and sparkler exit base settings I use from start to finish!
STEP 1: COMMUNICATION
As it stands for most things, communication is key for pulling of a successful sparkler exit for your clients.
Once the couple has stated they want the sparkler exit my communication process begins. I, or my second, will advise them not to run through the exit. If they really want to run through it, we will ask them to stop and kiss at a few points. Some couples want to go through twice: Once slowly to make sure pictures are captured and a second time to run and have fun with it!
I also communicate with the planner about sparkler exit best practices. From my experience, it seems best to pass out lighters to every 3 or 4 people in the line. The wedding planner should tell everyone to only light the sparklers once he or she gives the go ahead. Then they are to light the sparklers of the people around them. It's never a good idea to start at one end and just go down the line. I've seen many a sparkler line go out on one end or the other. I also let the planner know that we will never advise anyone to light more than one sparkler at once. There really are dangers to that!
I communicate to my seconds where I want them or what I want them to do. For example, I may want them to try for a creative shot with a slower shutter speed and rear curtain sync etc. I may want one holding up an off camera flash from another direction rather than on the camera, but for this post we are sticking with easy peasy on camera flash.
STEP 2: SPARKLER EXIT BASE SETTINGS
I have base settings I start with for the sparkler exit. With this post I will share my base settings for a very dark exit and very little ambient light except for the sparklers themselves. Those seem to be the hardest for people to capture.
The above images are all from the same wedding. Lauren + Josh's beautiful Lake Wylie Wedding would not have been complete without their spectacular sparkler exit!
In these photos I was using a Nikon D800 camera, a SB600 flash unit on camera, the Nikon 85mm 1.4, and a Gary Fong snoot.
The settings I started with were: Ending Settings:
ISO 1600 1600
APERTURE 3.2 3.2
SHUTTER 1/125 1/125
FLASH Manual at 1/128 1/64
As you can see my base settings were almost perfect. I start getting my settings in when the sparklers are being lit. I start with 800-2000 ISO, 1/80-1/125 shutter speed (because I never use a lens longer than 85 for the sparkler exit), Aperture of 3.2 ( to let in a good amount of light), and manual flash of 1/32-1/128. I generally only need to tweak the flash power.
If I'm using an older model camera I may use a lower ISO. Newer cameras have a much higher ISO capability. So, why not use all ambient light from the sparklers with a newer model camera? Well I'll tell ya, there is a LOT of smoky haze that comes off the sparklers. A higher ISO will show all of that. How is your flash not illuminating the smoke? My trusty Gary Fong snoot! It has been one of the BEST investments I've made in my photography career. I can be stuck at the end of the night with whatever camera/flash I have in hand for a surprise sparkler exit, but I gotta have my snoot. It stays on my utility belt-or whatever you want to call it haha. For those of you that are not familiar, a snoot points the light and provides a much sharper fall off than a bare bulb flash. The snoot constrains the light to that point, so not as much of it reaches up to the smoky haze from the sparklers.
Holly + Bo's beautiful Lake Wylie Wedding!
The above image was taken from a lower angle to capture more sky and accentuate the fall off from using the Gary Fong. I was using a Nikon D3, Nikon SB600 Flash, Nikon 50mm 1.4, and of course, my Gary Fong Snoot.
Settings for the above image:
ISO 800 (Due to using the D3)
The above images are from Jordan and David's gorgeous wedding in Columbia, SC.
I used a Nikon D800, Nikon 50mm 1.4, Nikon SB600, and once again, my snoooooooot!
As you can see, my shutter only varied from 1/80-1/125, which is largely due to what lens I'm using. I always want to make sure it's fast enough for the focal length of my lens. My flash varied depending on the ambient light and ISO. You might be able to get by with TTL, but I just remember using it once on a sparkler shot and not liking the results. (I can't even remember why really, but all I know is I have to get the shot!)
STEP 3: EQUIPMENT & POST PROCESSING FOR THE SPARKLER EXIT
Equipment guide for the Sparkler Exit
For a general rule of thumb you'll need a camera you know well, a good mid-range flash, a good all around lens like a 50mm, and of course I'm going to recommend the Gary Fong snoot. No, I'm not being paid to say that a million times; I just swear by that thing! It cuts down on that smoky haze, illuminates mainly what you're pointing it at, and has a pretty cool look to the fall off. I'm sure there are other portable snoots that work well, but in my experience it's worth twice what I paid for it with the results I've gotten.
How to edit the sparkler exit
Generally I like to stay in Lightroom, and I abhor having to take photos into photoshop. Wedding photographers know exactly how long it can take to edit full weddings, and there is no time for extreme photoshopping if you are trying to run a successful, efficient, and profitable business. I try to get everything right in camera besides a little contrast, wb, etc. With that said, I will spend a little extra time on sparkler exits. Sometimes I will lower the blacks a little more if there is some lingering smoky haze. Sometimes my flash power should have been bumped up a bit, and I'll brighten the middle of the photograph where the couple is a tad. I just a very soft brush, and within that brush I'll lighten the shadows and whites a bit. In all honesty I would say I spend about 30 seconds to a minute extra per sparkler photo if it needs a little jazzing up. I normally do not deliver over 10 sparkler images, so at 1 minute a piece I've only used 10-20 minutes on those. It's well worth it because you can be hired based on your sparkler exits, and the couples LOVE them!
IT'S MY FIRST SPARKLER EXIT! WHAT DO I DO?
I recommend using a 50 or 85mm lens at an aperture of 3.2 That's always given me the tried and true results. Try an ISO around 1000-1600, and put your flash into TTL. Although I may not like it myself (for whatever reason that I can't even remember), it will most likely give you acceptable results. No snoot and no time? No problem-grab a paper cup and some tape, and make one really quick! It certainly doesn't look like the most professional thing in the world, but it will point your light. Have fun at the wedding, and have a wonderful and successful sparkler exit!
If you've enjoyed reading this post, please comment and let me know! As always, contact me for any questions you may have.
Fine Art Wedding Photographer
Charleston, Greenville, Asheville, Columbia, Charlotte, Savannah
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