Trevor Allen Photography | Halifax Wedding, Family & Destination Photographer
902.220.3822 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month I photographed Sindura & Aneesh’s multi-day Indian wedding and at 1:00am on the Sunday (I suppose that makes it early Monday) we left the dance at the Marriott Harbourfront for a quick 15 minutes of shooting out by the water. We got wonderful images and below is an iconic image that got a tonne of attention on my Photography Facebook page. So now, after seeing this, lots of brides have been asking for a similar style shot on their big day...but I’ve also had nearly a dozen photographers this month e-mailing or calling me asking how I do them.
I love sharing the techniques I’ve learned as I enjoy seeing people taking what I’ve taught them and then take it in a different direction! To hoard knowledge goes against my mantra that if you are good at what you do (not just technical photographic skills, but being a good 'photographer'), you will never be out of work. And there will always be others hoping to learn from you.
So this is how I do the sparkler shots.
First off, they are not composites and the images don’t even really make it into photoshop (except maybe to add a few more stars). And right off the bat, let me say that it is actually me twirling the sparkler around the couple (oddly, that’s always the first question I get...followed with “how come I can’t see you?”...but more on that in a bit..
The first thing I did for Sindura's shot was set the tripod and get a good composition and exposure for the background. For this type of shot I know I need lots of time to run around with the sparkler, so I set the shutter speed right off the bat to 10-13 seconds...so now it's all about my aperture and ISO (This image was 13.0 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 200 - I like low ISO because I don’t like digital noise). Then I pop the bride and groom in there and tell them not to move...even when the sparkler is in their face (that is the most important time not to move as that is the moment they will be lit with the light from the flame). Ideally, have them standing in the dark so in the long exposure they’ll be lit by nothing but the sparkler. Because your camera will have a tough time seeing them too, have a flashlight handy to help find focus and then once you have it, flip your focus to manual so you don't lose it when you press the shutter. Also, try to have a person handy with an iPhone to loudly count off seconds on their timer app because if you go too fast, you will be left with a big blob of light above their heads and if you go too slow, your trail won't make it to the top and will just simply end at their shoulders (I mean, you can keep going to the top if you like, but the shutter has already closed - so that’s no good). Also (VERY IMPORTANT), don't have the sparkler go right in front of their heads or else you won't see their faces - instead, leave a gap there so their faces aren’t obscured by fire (look at all these images and you'll see what I mean).
Ok...it's go time. Light your sparkler (I used two at the same time for a thicker stream of spitting sparks) and once lit, get the couple to strike their pose, hit the shutter (I use a 10 second timer - but if you have a remote, that would be so much better) and hide behind them peeking out to watch your red light blinking. As you watch that flashing red light count you down, remind the couple not to move and have your timer person get ready to hit start on their iPhone and ready to yell out the countdown. Solid red...Here we go....2 seconds left...GO! Ok, start walking at a good pace, leave a wide cage to it doesn't crowd them and listen to your countdown person and keep a good pace keeping nice even (and not wobbly) lines of sparks. It is impossible for your body not to pass in front of the sparklers and that will leave a gap on every rotation (I left mine instead of photoshopping the gap - they aren't obviously noticeable and are neat little glitches in the photo that make it real. Now, the reason you don't see me is because I'm moving...I'm so 'ghosted' that you don’t even see me (well, in the image below you can see my face at one point to their 10 o’clock - I left it for this post but will remove it for their print). It is important that the person doing the twirling wears black or a very dark colour or else you'll see a white streak moving just to the outside of the sparkler - that's your shirt being lit by the flame and being recorded on the image. But even if you wear all dark clothing, at the very end when you stop moving and do the little twirl at the top; that's when your face will really show....and I did photoshop that out - it was right above Aneesh's head. The best sound you'll hear is the click the moment your reach your apex. You nailed it. Now....when you look at the photo, it will look wonderful...but zoom in on their faces....they likely moved. Don't just assume you got it and then find out the hard way while editing that you didn't get it. It only takes 13 seconds...do it several times (be mindful not to go in front of their faces with the light - I botched many doing that as you tend to forget as you are quickly walking around them in tight circles getting dizzy).
(so here is technical editing mumbo-jumbo)
In Adobe Lightroom, all I did was jack clarity, boosted the highlights and adjusted my colour balance. I only took it into photoshop to add more stars. I love seeing stars in the image but being right downtown, only a few were visible in the shot. Here, I was able to add my 'artistic expression' on the moment. So to photoshop them, just put a layer of stars (preferably stars on a black night sky) on top of the image and set your layer blending mode to ‘lighten’. This takes all the lighter parts of the image (stars) and doesn't show all the darker parts of the image (sky). Then just mask out where you don’t want to stars and possibly a wee bit of a gradient mask from the horizon. (13.0 sec at f6.3, ISO 200)
I love this next photo. It’s actually right where Jane & Olesh had their ‘first look’ earlier in the day. It’s at Pier 21 in downtown Halifax, NS and I really like the reflection of the sparklers in the trains’ windows as well as all the neon lights and textures in the image. The image just pops. I love it
This shot below of Heather and Jonathan has their reception and ceremony location behind them and the party in there is rocking! Currently, the DJ has KISS playing and everyone is rocking out in there. It’s a wonderful memory and I love that their wedding location a big part of the image. Being in Lunenburg (at the Lunenburg Yacht Club) the stars are, in fact, not photoshopped in. And it's the big Dipper at that! What a night! (13.0 sec at f5.6, ISO 400)
Below is Marielle & Joey outside Public Gardens and the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax. I love this shot and I’m so pleased I was able to get it for them. (13.0 sec at f5.0, ISO 200)
So, you can actually create the sparks without using sparklers. Below is a really neat spark trick recently adapted by Jeff Babineau, a Halifax wedding and portrait photographer based out of Truro. He got this very cool effect, not using sparklers, but with burning steel wool.
In addition to a tripod, you’ll need the finest grade steel wool you can get because if it is too thick it won't burn and it’s tricky to light so have a small torch or a BBQ lighter. You will need a METAL kitchen whisk (like the kind you beat eggs with) plus 2-3 feet of string or wire. Last, you’ll need a trusting volunteer with short hair and dark clothing (natural fabric, not synthetic - because sparks will be a-flying )
To create the spinning shower of sparks you take a small ball of steel wool and stuff it into the kitchen whisk as the whisk acts as a cage to hold the steel wool while it burns. Then tie a string or thin wire to the end of the whisk and light the steel wool. When she's lit, press the shutter and start your twirling (if you are doing it alone - just set the timer like I described above). Sparks will fly around like crazy as the steel wool burns. However, it burns quick so Jeff didn't get the sky full of sparks like how he envisioned the shot. So he took a number of shots and then layered them in photoshop to get that full sky of sparks. So if you are going to be layering images, it’s real important to remember not to move the tripod between shots. So now that you are taking multiple shots, it's a great way to pick and choose the best (and most sharp) shot of the bride and groom. Once you have that shot, then begin the process of layering the images, setting their blending modes to ‘lighten’, mask as you need to, as build a beautiful image. And finally, Jeff wanted to light up the bride and groom so he popped them with a little flash toward the end of the exposure. This shot got wild interest on Facebook and is certainly an impressive image to show off! (10.0 sec at f22, ISO 100)
So, good luck and have fun with this - there are soooo many things you can do with sparklers. Feel free to e-mail them to me as I’m actually putting together a pretty rad website this winter showing off neat and interesting photos done with sparklers (be sure to hook me up with your website URL and anchor text you’d like used).
PS - I absolve myself of any responsibility if anyone has sparks melt holes in a brides dress (frankly that wouldn’t really bother me as it adds to the memory of this photo in 40 years) or lights a bride or her hair spray caked hair on fire. Lighting a bride on fire is not good. Be careful. Remember, it's fire you are playing with. Don’t do this over or around anything flammable (dry grass, wood, gas pumps, etc.) and it isn’t a bad idea to have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher handy. Just in case.
Arlene: Thank you So MUCH Trevor! Your work is photography at it's absolute best, I'm so appreciative of your help and advice! You're an amazing man and your talent is astounding!!! Thank you! on 09.06.13
Darren: Trevor. Thanks for sharing the how to. I will quickly be adding this to my bookmarks so i can refer back again and again. on 09.06.13