Shooting The Exit

Shooting the final exit or departure at a wedding can be a real bitch. What I have found is that it can be the most unpredictable, most volatile, and most difficult moment shoot. And when I first started shooting weddings I didn’t even want to begin to think about taking a stylistic approach to it. I wanted to turn my flash on, fire away and hope I got it. 

One of things I preach in our workshops is “know the gear you’re shooting with”. The only way you can really do that is to practice, practice and then practice more. Fortunately I am at the point now, 4.5 years in, I have seen and shot the exit 200+ times! And at this point for me I have seen every variation so it’s become about paying attention and just expecting that something will go wrong. And with a fast moving exit, fire and drunk people, lots of crap can go wrong. 

(For the sake of this article we are going to focus on the sparkler exit! There are so many ways the bride and groom will exit, however we MOSTLY see them exit to sparklers)

The Approach 

As the night begins to come to a close, I will generally slip outside and take a look at where the exit is going to happen. Even if I have shot there numerous times, I still want to see what the path they take will look like. I want to see what will be my background, and if I have any ambient light to work with. I then will almost always communicate with the coordinator on a couple of things.

1. Please please please PLEASE check with me right before you give the couple the go ahead. I just want to make sure, again, I am totally ready for them to come out. Also side note, don’t be the reason they are being held up. Get out there before everyone else and get your head right! 

2. I will also ask that once they have the couple exit, have them stop and either wave, kiss, or whatever. This gives me a brief moment to shoot, and while shooting I can see my meter and know that I am ok. If I have not for some reason set up my camera to shoot correctly, this gives me a chance to fix it and get back to shooting

The Gear - The Setup

I’d be lying to you if I said I nailed it every time. Really, in that moment I am hoping to get it close enough. Sometimes I crush it a couple of times I have totally blown it and blamed it on the drunk uncle getting in the way. (totally kidding... sort of) This is where having the right gear helps. Some will tell you that you need an off camera flash or an assistant holding this over there and this and that. Some of that might be true. I think most of the time it’s over kill.  Ultimately it comes down to personal style. For me, I like the consistency of using natural light. 

You absolutely can set up a flash and get fantastic images every time. If you care to, set up an off camera flash to the side, roughly 5-10 feet away, (off to the side angled towards them, use an umbrella to soften the light)  set your camera’s ISO anywhere from 400-800, set the shutter speed to 125, shoot at 2.8 to 3.5 and call it a day! Again I LOVE the look of using the sparkler and other natural or ambient light to help style the image. I shoot the exit just like I shoot the wedding day. Exclusively with my Canon 5D MK3 and my 50mm 1.2... all day every day 

I use this setup for a few reasons;

1. The Autofocus is fast - and I mean blazing fast. I can’t imagine to try to do that with my Leica. I love my M, but the payoff isn’t there. 

2. The MK3’s low light capability It's ridiculous. (Nikon users i am sure the D800 and 810 are great too) While I rarely find the need to, I could shoot up to 6400 with zero issues.

3. The 50 1.2 is the greatest lens that has ever walked this fantastic planet we live on. Well if it had legs, and was a living/breathing thing it would be. Regardless, the 50mm 1.2 has the ability to shoot fast and sharp in any condition. And in the dark that is crucial. Over time I have found the 85mm 1.2 to be too slow (focusing), and the 35mm 1.4 a little soft (in low light) at 1.4 for my liking. 

To recap - I shoot almost exclusively, again, in Aperture mode and my ISO is always set anywhere from 800-3200, I spot meter, and always shoot wide open at 1.2

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples, before and afters, of sparkler exits I have shot in the past with some commentary

ISO 1600 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

Here you can see not much of an exposure and white balance adjustment. You will notice a little bit of a chromatic aberration in the sparklers themselves. That is the downside at times (rarely) with shooting wide open. However, That can be fixed in LR

ISO 1600 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

ISO 2000 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

You can see a bit more of an exposure and white balance adjustment here. Also, there was a incredibly drunk guy right behind me with 7 sparklers or so and when I stood up, he almost set me on fire. Whatever it takes for the shot right? RIGHT? 

ISO 6400 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

This was exit was a little bit more difficult as there was almost ZERO light before they lit their sparklers. This is at Sundara,  a favorite of venue of mine, and where they generally have them exit is just a really dark area. So I had to bump up my ISO here, and you can see in post I adjusted the WB and exposure. 




I hope this has been helpful for you guys! Again, knowing your gear and practicing is so crucial to getting it right! You can free yourself from trying to get it right technically and start focusing on developing your voice in your work!