A few people have asked me how I managed to capture this sparkler photo at Fae and Lewis’s recent wedding at Lympne Castle in Kent, so I’ve decided to put everyone out of their misery and reveal all!
Setting the scene
A month or so before the wedding, Fae mentioned that they were thinking of having a sparkler exit towards the end of the evening, which started my creative juices flowing. I’ll be the first to admit that I hadn’t attempted a sparkler photo before, and I know from other photographers how tricky they can be, so I started scouring the internet in earnest for tips and inspiration.
The first and main issue was that it was going to be dark when I was due to attempt the photo. Initially I’d planned to rely on the light from the sparklers to illuminate Fae and Lewis, but this would mean that I’d probably have to shoot using a low aperture and high ISO to let more light in, which might result in focusing being a problem. The lens I was intending to use offered an aperture of f1.4 at 85mm, but the depth of field this offered would be ridiculously thin.
My second train of thought was simply to illuminate them using an off-camera flash, which meant that I could stop the lens down a little more to a lower ISO and more reasonable aperture (I rarely stray beyond f4 these days) but this presented another couple of potential problems. One, focusing would again be a challenge as it was dark, and secondly, even thought Fae and Lewis would be nicely lit, all the guests would possibly be underexposed except for the ambient light of the sparklers.
The way around this would be to drag the shutter to let more ambient light in and freeze the happy couple using the flash, but it would still be a bit of a pain tracking their movement and focusing with the lack of light I was presented with.
(As a side note, I also contemplated using the Yongnuo YN-622C-TX trigger which emits a focus assist light, but to be honest the light it emits is crap. The trigger itself is extremely reliable, but as far as helping with autofocus goes? Forget it.)
I was talking to a fellow photographer who’d recently photographed a sparkler exit, and they’d mentioned that they’d used a video LED light. It’s basically a continuous light source that you can mount on a tripod or monopod, meaning you can (a) visualise how the light will look before you take the photo, and (b) focus on your subject without any issues. Hurrah!
The video light I used was the Neewer 176 LED 5600K Ultra Bright Dimmable on Camera Video Light, which did the job admirably AND was fantastic value for money too. I also backlit the couple using a YongNuo YN560 III flash triggered by the Yongnuo YN 560-TX, with the intention of adding some atmosphere to the photo by illuminating the smoke from the sparklers.
So my process was:
- Pop Yongnuo flash on light stand behind couple at 1/16th power
- Place Neewer vide LED on monopod – my assistant was to the right of me just out of shot and walking alongside Fae and Lewis to keep them nicely lit. Power was roughly 50%.
- Ask Fae and Lewis to walk slowly (!) towards the camera
- Take the photo (Canon 5Diii // Sigma 85 ART // AI Servo mode // 1/100s // f3.5 // ISO 3200)
- I chose ISO 3200 and a shutter speed of 1/100 to allow some ambient light from the sparklers to bleed through. This was just about quick enough due to Fae and Lewis kindly agreeing to walk slowly!
- ISO 3200 allowed me to set the flash to a low power setting of 1/16, meaning recycle times were quick
- I meant to shoot at f4, but in all the excitement accidentally bumped it to f.3.5!
- Ask your couple to walk closely together, otherwise the flash won’t be hidden and you’ll be blinded / your photo will be a flash of white light only!
- Finally, the links on this page are connected to the Amazon Associates programme, meaning that if you should purchase any of the products as a result of clicking on the links, I’ll make a little bit of money. The intention of the article first and foremost is to educate, but if I make a few pennies on the side as well, that’d be lovely :)