Sparkler photos are a fabulous addition to a photographer’s portfolio. They’re elegant, breathtaking, and really stand-out in an album. That being said, sparkler photos are no walk in the park!
These four easy- to intermediate-level pro tips provide a simple tutorial to help photographers achieve great sparkler photos that will blow your clients away.
Note: If you’re a couple looking for advice on how to plan sparklers into your day, check out my blog post here: 8 Tips for Wedding Day Sparkler Photos!
TECHNIQUE 1: COUPLE HOLDING SPARKLERS
Level of Difficulty: Easy
What You Need: Camera Body, Wide Aperture Portrait Lens (at least f/2.8), 2-4 Sparklers, Lighter
1) Choose a location and keep an eye on lighting situations. Keep composition in mind with your backdrop, but remember that the shooting location shouldn’t have a ton of ambient light — the light will come from the sparklers.
2) Set your camera settings. Wide apertures and higher ISOs will be your friend here. You don’t necessarily want slower shutter speeds, because you’ll create more sparkler trails, and it’s difficult to keep your subjects in focus.
3) Light the sparklers and instruct the couple to hold them as close as possible. The sparklers are your light source for this technique, and with wider apertures and dark situations, you’ll want light as close as possible to help you properly focus. Make sure the sparklers aren’t covering important features (eyes, mouths, etc.). Get a few different poses and angles – I usually aim for one smiling at the camera, a kiss, a close up of their hands with the sparklers, and then I get creative depending on time.
4) In post-production, make sure you color correct for skin tones. Auto-correction will usually default to the sparkler light, resulting in very blue tones overall. If you see any grain as a result of your boosted ISO, you can dial it back with Lightroom’s Noise Reduction tool.
TECHNIQUE 2: POSED GROUP PHOTO
Level of Difficulty: Easy
What You Need: Camera Body, Wide Aperture Portrait Lens (at least f/2.8) 36″ Sparklers (at least one per guest, but two is better), Lighter, Tripod (recommended, but not required)
1) Arrange guests in a semi-circle around the couple, and pass out at least two sparklers to each guest. Guests should light off of each other’s sparklers.
2) Instruct the couple and guests to smile, while holding as still as possible for this photo. If you’re attempting to recreate the photo above, you’ll want a slower shutter speed with a narrower aperture — this ensures you’ll be able to recognize faces of the people arranged behind the bride and groom without sacrificing your aperture.
Notes/Alterations: This particular photo example does not use flash, but flash could be added. You could bounce it off a nearby structure, add OCF on the couple, or even use the white bounce card in your speedlight to add some light to the couple. If you choose to add flash, I would recommend the lowest possible flash setting needed for exposure, so the couple’s bodies aren’t casting shadows.
TECHNIQUE 3: SPARKLER SEND OFF
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
What You Need: Camera Body, Wide Aperture Portrait Lens (at least f/2.0) 36″ Sparklers (at least one per guest, but two is better), Lighter
1) Help arrange wedding guests into a tunnel formation — they should be facing each other, with enough room for the couple to walk through the tunnel comfortably.
2) Instruct guests to light sparklers from the outside of the tunnel, and work their way center. You’ll want those sparklers lit last, so that you can optimize the light in the middle of the tunnel — the area you plan to use for portraits. Guests should light off of each other’s sparklers — it’s much faster than a lighter.
3) Instruct your couple to wait for your signal to begin walking through the tunnel. Advise them not to run until the final pass-through — you’re working on a slower shutter speed, and attempting to focus at night. The slower they go, the better focus the images will have.
4) Your couple should pause midway through the tunnel to pose for photos. How you chose to pose them is up to you, but I always like to at least have a kiss, and/or a dip. If you have time for a second (or even a third) pass through the tunnel, have your couple do it again, until the sparklers begin to run out.
TECHNIQUE 4: PAINTING WITH LIGHT –
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
What You Need: Camera Body, Wide Aperture Portrait Lens (at least f/2.0) 4x – 36″ Sparklers, Lighter, Tripod (required)
1) Arrange the wedding party members as two on either side of the couple and the couple in the center.
2) From the perspective of the people using sparklers, they will need to work backwards. This means that, from their perspective facing you, they’ll be working from right to left. I recommend arranging them in a line, and then telling them who gets each letter.
3) Letters need to be written backwards from the perspective of the writer, and also backwards. The letter “O” is the easiest, followed by “V,” because they look the same when mirrored. “L” and “E” need to be written backwards, and “E” works out best as a lowercase “e”.
4) Because you’re working in a long exposure format, the letters also need to repeat forwards/backwards in fluid strokes, without stopping — the more strokes, the thicker the lines will appear in the image (plus, it’s easier than coordinating everyone writing their letter at the same speed).
It’s important to explain that, after a letter is written, they should write back over that line — DO NOT START OVER (unless you have the letter “O”, which is basically a circle). Every sparkler stroke in a long exposure creates a new line, and every line will be captured. If someone starts over at the top, the motion they made will appear as an extra line within their letter. The easiest way to explain it to someone is to imagine they need to trace their letter on a page over and over, but without lifting their writing utensil.
5) During the photo, your couple should plan to stay as still as possible, so they appear crisp in the image — holding a kiss tends to look better than looking at the camera, because blinking does show up in long exposures.
6) Once everyone understands their role, preset your camera settings for long exposure (I like eight seconds as a starting point) and frame the image within your tripod. Then, light the sparklers for the wedding party. Return to your tripod and focus your lens on the couple. Instruct the people with sparklers to start writing, and not to stop, even if you take multiple photos. Take as many photos as you’d like, adjusting shutter speed as you go, until you get an image you like!
Variations: This technique can be used in other ways too! You can set the tripod on a 30-second timer, and walk around your couple to make a sparkler spiral, or make a big heart behind them, write the word LOVE (use cursive!), etc. The options are endless!
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Rachel Lahlum is an award-winning Minneapolis wedding photographer with experience in hundreds of weddings and engagement sessions. She takes a guided approach towards working with couples, from helping with planning and scheduling, to guiding with poses and prompts during the session. Her photography is crisp, clean and bright, with true-to-life colors and a mix of traditional poses and candid moments.