YAY! Your couple is having a sparkler exit! It's exciting, right?

Sure, but it can also be terrifying and anxiety-inducing. We have to catch that perfect storm of focus, direction, timing and settings, and its always over in a flash (#punny). Instead of having to say a little prayer every time you click that shutter, here are 5 tips to help you get prepared and take charge of your next couple exit!


1. GO BIG

If you know they’re having a sparkler exit before the wedding day, ask them to get the longest biggest sparklers they can. The regular sized sparklers burn out very fast, and by the time the end of the line gets theirs lit, the start of the line has already burned out. This means way less light for you to shoot in, and way less excitement, YIKES!

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200


2. GO SLOW

I can’t stress how important this is! Right before the exit, remind the couple to take their time, enjoy the moment, and not rush it. If they run through like a flash and disappear into the night, you won’t have enough time to focus and shoot. Depending on your couple’s dynamic and personality, you can have them do different things so the slow-walk doesn’t look or feel awkward for them. You still want that high energy for this moment! So for example, you could have them dance through it together so they’re moving constantly but not moving forward at a rapid speed. Or you could have them stop at the middle and end to kiss, to hug and dip, to bow, to clap and scream, to pick her up and celebrate, etc.

Keep in mind, it’s okay to have them go through twice if they’re feeling it. As long as it’s not a forced “You’re gonna have to do I again because I missed the shot”. Some couples have asked me if they can go more than once because they’re loving the attention! And that gives me another chance to get a great in-focus shot, so it’s win-win!

I don’t direct during the actual exit, but I just tell them all of this right before they go through. Once they start that exit, I relinquish control and just embrace the spontaneity of the moment. So be ready!

Anything that slows them down helps you focus! Shot with 5DMiii and 24mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200.

Anything that slows them down helps you focus! Shot with 5DMiii and 24mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200.


3. USE YOUR AF ASSIST BEAM

I don’t actually shoot with the flash firing, but I use my flash on my camera as an assist, with the AF-Assist Beam. If you're wondering what the heck this is, it’s a way to use your flash’s AF assist beam (that infrared laser light that your flash emits to help your lens focus) while telling your flash not to actually fire when the shutter clicks.

You know that back-and-forth thing your poor lens does when it just can’t focus? AF Assist Beam helps it find that focal plane way faster, without the “RRRR-RRRR” back and forth search. Here’s how to do it:

HOW TO USE AF-ASSIST

1. Make sure your AF Assist is enabled on your flash. Here is an easy way to test if its enabled: Go into a pitch black room (bathroom, closet, etc) and try to take a photo with the on-camera flash. If you see red light beams, you’re enabled and good to go. You need a dark room to test this, because your flash reads the light and only uses this in very dark situations.

- If you still need to enable it, the steps are different for every flash, so I advise that you check your manual or google exactly how to do this for your particular flash

2. Mount your flash on your camera's hot shoe

3. Make sure your camera is set to auto focus and One-Shot mode. AF won’t work in AI Servo mode.

4. Tell your camera to disable flash firing.

- On the 5D Miii, you do this by going into the first menu option (the first red menu) and selecting External Speedlite Control > Flash Firing > Disable

- For a different camera the menu will be different, so use your manual or google to find out your specific steps.

5. Test it out by going into a dark room and taking a shot. You should see the red assist beam go off but the flash won’t actually fire. You’re good to go!

Using AF Assist helps you camera focus way faster and gives you more flexibility when shooting dark situations. No more hoping and praying you get that focus! But even with this aid, a few shots do come out a little off focus. Don’t worry, with movement in the dark that’s just part of it! Just try to be more intentional about which shots you’re shooting instead of rapid firing the crap out of it!

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/250sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/250sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200


4. NAIL DOWN YOUR SETTINGS BEFORE THE EXIT BEGINS

If your exposure isn’t set before they begin, you’re likely to miss moments while you’re fumbling with your settings. So what I do is just figure out my settings as the sparklers are being lit, by shooting the guests while they’re lighting the sparklers and getting in line. If you need to, you can ask your second shooter to be your quick stand-in if you’re having trouble nailing it.

BASE SETTINGS

The more you shoot, the more second nature your settings will come. To help you with a base point, I recommend starting with your ISO and aperture, and then changing your shutter speed accordingly. For example, start by setting your ISO to 3200 and your aperture to 2.0. Then work with the shutter speed to see how fast you can go with it to nail the exposure. As with any exposure, just play around with these three settings until your exposure looks good. As a general rule, I don’t like to go any slower than 1/125sec, or any wider than f/1.6. For ISO, I generally stay at 3200. If you absolutely have to push more, I definitely recommend pushing ISO higher instead of going to a slower shutter speed. You’ll just get fuzzy blurry photos, and not always in a good way.

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/160sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

The important thing to remember is to nail your exposure down in-camera. If you underexpose dramatically, at an ISO as high as 3200 or 6400, the exposure bump in LR will make the photo muddy and will start to show those awful digital noise lines. Remember, I’m shooting with Canon 5DMiii, so these generalities may be different for your camera.

If there is a videographer, make sure you talk to them well beforehand about their plans for the exit. Will they be using a video light? Where will they be positioned? I usually ask the videographer not to use a video light during the sparkler exit if possible (the sparklers usually provide enough light for them too), and we just stand next to each other so we can both shoot and not get in each other’s way.


5. EMBRACE THE ACTION

And now it’s time to shoot it! I usually stand towards the end of the line, so I can stay in one spot while they come towards me. This works well unless the line is insanely long. If the line is more of a crooked blob, I’m forced to walk backwards through it. If you need to do this, just stay low and watch the fire!

A lot of the times the couple is afraid of catching fire themselves, so you get some humorous images of ducking for cover, like the one below. Whatever happens, it's all about embracing that moment and staying quick on your feet, ready for any spontaneous action!

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/250sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

Shot with 5DMiii and 35mmL lens. 1/250sec at f/1.8, ISO 3200

As long as we're prepared, these exits should no longer cause fear and panic. They're beautiful and can make for really fun and exciting photos, so let's embrace the chaos and create that magic!


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COMING SOON: Part II of this post, How To Edit Sparkler Exits!

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