Last week I wrote a post for brides and grooms about having a great sparker exit, and I know this is something that can be challenging to photograph, so I thought this week I would share something for my photographer friends! Photographing a sparkler exit doesn’t have to be scary! I think they are a lot of fun, and so much less stressful if you have a system down. Here’s what I do to light mine!

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MY SETUP:

On Camera: Canon 580 EX II, Calumet trigger. I typically photograph sparklers with my 35mm. It’s my favorite for clutch moments when focus is key…especially in a situation like during a night time exit, because you can’t use al servo focusing if you’re going to be outside. You MUST use one shot so that the little “pre-flash” light will come out of your flash and help give your camera something to focus on.

Off Camera: 430 EX II, Calumet trigger, umbrella. All of this on my 13 ft nightstand.

I place my flash off to the left or right of the scene facing parallel to where the couple will be walking out. Usually I put it at the middle of the lineup. The light stand is always extended high enough to where it will be above even tall people’s heads, but not high enough to where the light stand becomes unstable. I usually place it about 5-7 feet away so it’s out of the way and less likely for someone to trip over. I then position myself either in the middle or towards the end of the lines of people with sparklers. Yep, directly in the line of fire. Pun intended ;) If you’re more of a visual type of person, check out my super fancy sparkler exit diagram below:

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Shoot completely manual. AND I MEAN COMPLETELY! If you aren’t shooting manual with your flash, you’re leaving it up to your camera and flash to determine what settings you need. I know shooting manual with flash can be kind of intimidating, but it really isn’t that bad. I start with my on camera flash settings at 1/16 or 1/32 depending on what the ambient light situation is and then move up or down from there. I use my wonderful second shooter/life partner/future baby daddy as my test subject. I do the same exact thing with the off camera flash! It’s just like using ISO, Shutter Speed, and aperture during the day…you have to balance both flashes and your camera settings to get the exact look you want. I personally love to make my ocf a little stronger so that I can be sure to capture a bright, crisp image of the exit. While I’m doing that, often John will shoot with no flash at all…just the ambient light from the sparklers. This gives us two looks to deliver to our clients…the clean images I shoot, and somewhat moodier images from John since there’s no flash to cut through them. If you have a second shooter working with you, I would try it out and see! The benefit to two shooters in a situation like this is that one person can get the “safe” shot and the other has the license to get more creative!!!

Here’s an example…the top photo was taken by me and the bottom by John. Mine with flash and ocf and his without. Both are great shots, but the top one is more consistent with the rest of the reception images we delivered. The bottom one is fun and has a romantic feel that I love! I would have been nervous though to try to take an image like the bottom one though if I was shooting on my own, since I need to guarantee a crisp, in focus shot for couple and that’s a lot harder to do at slower shutter speeds and higher isos that you need for shooting without a flash setup.

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Settings: F 2.8, 1/125, ISO400 (I don’t know what my flash was set at, but I would guess 1/16 on camera and 1/16 or 1/8 off camera)

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Settings: F 2.8, 1/100 ISO 2500. No flash.

Another thing I can’t stress enough is, EDUCATE YOUR CLIENTS!! They don’t attend weddings every single weekend like we do. They’re trusting your judgement as a professional and it’s up to you to give them guidance on how to get the best images. So tell them what you need them to do! I always suggest my clients walk slowly (and please do not run!) and savor the moment when they’re going out for a sparkler exit. That’s the last little part of the wedding day! I mention it before the wedding, and I mention it again right before they are about to walk out. I also try my best to coordinate and corral the drunk folks who are about to be wielding fire sticks as best as I can…especially if there isn’t a coordinator or friend designated to organize things. I also have to mention, I wouldn’t be afraid to say “Hey, do you guys mind doing it one more time, please?” if you don’t get a good shot the first time. ESPECIALLY IF THEY RAN OUT. I’d rather ask them to do it again then not have a good photo to deliver. I don’t do this much, but there’s no shame in my game! Especially due to the unpredictable nature of sparkler exits…people may or may not hop in front of you as the bride and groom are coming out. And they may or may not hit you on your head with a sparkler (true story…). Better to be safe than sorry in my opinion.

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Settings: F3.2, 1/160, ISO 1250. Again, not sure what my flash settings were, but I think 1/8 on camera and 1/32 off camera.

So that’s my process for shooting these kinds of exits! Non sparkler exits are shot very similarly, but often you’ll have to bump your ISO that much higher because there’s really not much ambient light outside. Hope you guys can take these tips and go forth and conquer these exits confidently this year! As always, feel free to comment or email me with questions!

Did you like this post? Check out my For Photographers page  for more information on workshops and mentoring opportunities!

This is going to be one of those blog posts that really seems like it has nothing to do with anything until you get close to the end. I promise, if you stick with my rambling story, there will be a direct correlation between the crazy story and my business!! Bear with me!

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Friday night was one of those nights where I just HAD to have chocolate cake. I actually bought Nutella to make Table for Two blog’s Moistest Chocolate Mug Cake earlier in the week. I knew with snow in the forecast, dessert would be a given. I was rushing to put this cake together, grabbing ingredients to throw in my mug so I could get back to watching House of Cards, when something fell out of the damn cabinet and bounced off of ONE spot on my computer screen. So, I broke my computer trying to make a mug cake. Who does that?? I needed the cake even more after that! Talk about being stressed! I haven’t even had this computer a full year yet! Obviously, I added ice cream to the mug cake.

I backed up my computer as best as I could with the screen cracked and lines all through it and then took it into the Apple store first thing the next morning. I knew it was my fault and that my warranty didn’t cover accidental damage, but I just crossed my fingers the damage wasn’t too expensive to repair. I’d seen online estimates as high as $900!! It ended up being FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS. Still a lot. I felt tears coming on thinking about it, but didn’t start actually crying until the nice apple guy told me it would be THURSDAY before I got my computer back. Thursday! The week before a workshop! I panicked at the idea of not being able to do much to run my business until I got it back.

But this is where the story gets good: I went to pick it up yesterday and was ready to pull out my credit card when the guy says “you’re covered under warranty, so all we need is your email to send you a receipt”. Even though they told me three days ago it wasn’t covered! I don’t know if they took pity on me (I was pretty pitiful…a grown woman crying in the mall!) or if they just do nice things sometimes, but it reinforced how much I love Apple. It also reminded me the kind of business I want to run. I want a business that cares for people and has a heart. They not only had my computer done faster than they’d promised, but they gave me a break. Through the process, they earned a customer for life!

I like to look for the lessons in the situations that life sends my way, and this time I’m looking at ways that I can be like Apple and make my clients as happy as they made me yesterday. Thank you Apple dude! You made my week!

 

I had a nice, heartfelt blog post planned for today, my sister’s 26th birthday, but due to circumstances out of my control (namely, a mug cake incident gone horribly wrong) I’m computer less until probably Wednesday and my only ways of communicating with the Internet world are my phone and a two versions old ipad that’s as slow as me getting out of bed on a cold morning. So instead of all that mushy stuff, and a funny story about me and my sister as kids, I’ll keep it short and sweet.



Happy Birthday, Sis! I love you! And now you’re officially closer to 30 than 20, too! Feels great, doesn’t it? (The secret is, it actually does.) When we were little, the age gap between us (20 months) sometimes felt huge, but now that we’re in our late twenties, it feels like nothing. Like just a matter of days. Thank you for being my sister, my partner in crime (and sometimes, the narc who got me in trouble), and my best friend. I’m so glad you were born!

This time of year we’re welcoming lots of new couples for 2015 and 2016 and since a lot of them may not have been reading the blog for a really long time, I thought it would be fun to do another one of these “ten things” posts to introduce ourselves!

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Five Things You Might Not Know About John:

  1. He loves small animals! He one day hopes to have a small dog like Jiff, the famous Pomeranian.
  2. He won’t turn down anything peanut butter flavored. I personally hate peanut butter, but John will eat any kind…including PEANUT BUTTER SODA. I wish I was joking.
  3. He builds ships for a living. A lot of people might not realize that John works full time during the week, Mon-Fri. He’s a Shipfitter during the week, which means he essentially “fits” pieces of the ship together.
  4. His family home burned down his freshman year of college. As long as I’ve known John, way before either of us knew that we would one day be wedding photographers, he has always felt strongly about the importance of photographs. A large part of that is because his family lost all of their photos when they lost their home.
  5. He was a captain on his high school football team! He played right tackle. It was playing football that inspired his love of fitness and exercise.

Five Things You Might Not Know About Katie:

  1. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 19! And I didn’t actually start driving regularly until the summer I turned 20. A week after I finally started driving at 19, I totaled my car and was somewhat traumatized by the accident…so I took a “break” for a little while.
  2. I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages. Caffeine makes my stomach and head hurt, so I usually just drink decaffeinated teas and sometimes decaf coffee. (I really only like coffee for the creamer though!)
  3. Cats weren’t always my favorite animal. Lucy is actually my first cat! And she’s who I have to thank for turning me into a cat lady. I grew up with dogs as pets and never had a kitty before. I never thought I wanted one til Lucy showed up at our door. I’ll have to blog that story sometime!
  4. I lived in Germany for nine months. When I was five, my Dad was stationed near Bremerhaven. When we lived there, we got to travel to Holland, Austria, France, and more! I don’t have a ton of memories, but I do remember it being COLD and seeing lots of castles! It was such a cool experience, but I’d love to go back to these places as an adult.
  5. I used to really be obsessed with figure skating. Maybe it’s because as a small asian female, I’m almost the perfect size for being a lady figure skater, or maybe it’s just because I grew up in the 90s/early 00s when Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan, and Tara Lipinski were really popular. I remember avidly following the 1998 Winter Olympics only to have my 5th grade teacher totally spoil the results for me at the end of the last day. I even imagined myself as a figure skater…too bad I’m not very coordinated. Running is the only sport that really works for me, since you don’t have to have much coordination!

 

There are a lot of wedding related things that may seem sort of mysterious to people who have never planned a wedding before…exits are definitely one of them. Since I’ve been around the block a couple times (when it comes to weddings, that is), I wanted to share my best tips for creating an amazing, stress free sparkler exit that will also photograph beautifully!

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Choose the longest sparklers you can find
When you’re looking for sparklers you’ll want to order the longest ones you can find. The time the sparklers last is directly correlated to their length. The longer the sparkler, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the moment and for us to create an epic shot! 

Pick a spot that has at least some lighting 
We can make all sorts of magic happen at night with our cameras thanks to the miracle that is off camera lighting, however, we suggest making sure that where you do your sparkler exit has at least some kind of ambient light source. That could be a porch light, string lights, or something else that’s giving off a bit of light so that our cameras can focus on moving subjects (aka, you!)

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Designate a sparkler liason 
This person can be your wedding coordinator, your maid of honor, or another trusted individual who’s pretty organized. Ask this person to be in charge of handing out sparklers, lighting them when it’s time, and getting people lined up. On the wedding day, we’ll also be on hand to give suggestions and lend a hand to this person if they need our expertise!

Light the sparklers right before you are about to exit
A common mistake we see at weddings is people starting to light the sparklers a little bit too early. Once you have a few lit, lighting the rest actually goes by really quickly. And once those suckers are lit, you only have a limited amount of time before they’re done for good. How anti-climactic would it be to exit to only a couple of lit sparklers and a bunch of burned out ones?? By making sure the sparklers aren’t lit until right before you are ready to make your grand exit, you’ll ensure they are fully lit for the big moment.

Have people start lining up before the time you have scheduled for the exit
Though we suggest not lighting the sparklers until right before you are ready to walk out, it’s definitely important to get your guests lined up earlier. If you plan to exit at ten pm, it’s smart to have the DJ play the last song at 9:45ish so that guests can start making their way out around 9:50. It takes a while for people to get organized outside for exits. They have to collect their things, grab a favor, and say their goodbyes before heading outside to grab a sparkler. It’s really smart to start the process a little earlier if you have a venue that has a strict time you’ve got to be out by.

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Make sure guests know about your exit! 
A lot of times guests may not realize there’s something at the very end that they need to stay for, so they’ll head home at some point during the reception. The best “turnout” for sparklers is usually when people know about the exit in advance. Consider creating some kind of signage to let them know when you’re having your exit!

Walk slowly. 
There’s something about a sparkler exit that makes you want to run out through all of your friends and family who are lined up cheering you on…but it’s so much better for both the photos and your experience if you walk kind of slowly instead. Take a deep breath, soak it all in, and remember this last moment from your big day. That will give you a chance to really make a good memory of this, and it’ll give us plenty of leeway to capture it! We also encourage kisses during this time! What says wedding day better than the two of you getting in one last smooch with your family and friends celebrating around you??

Bonus Tip: If you haven’t purchased enough coverage for your exit from your photographer, consider staging an exit during the reception before your time is finished with bridal party and key family members!

 

I love it when our clients choose to complete their experience with us by purchasing an album! I think albums are the best way to enjoy your wedding images. Too many of us (myself included) only look at our images on the computer or on our phones. Which, is definitely a way to view them, but it’s no way to experience them. Albums are wonderful because the colors are printed the way that we saw them as artists and they are laid out intentionally. So rather than looking at a bunch of images in consecutive order, you’re looking at the story of your wedding day!

Claire and Matt were one of my favorite couples to work with last year, so their album obviously ended up being a favorite as well! They ordered two copies (one for them, one as a gift for family) and chose a chocolate linen cover for their books.

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Huge thanks to Align Album Design and Madera Books for giving my clients something so beautiful!

 

One of my goals for this off season was to finally create a wedding guide of my own. I love that fellow wedding photographers have been implementing these for their businesses, and after seeing a few that turned out amazing, I decided to create one for my 2015 and 2016 clients. I have always focused on blogging lots of helpful information for couples planning their weddings (my own and any others who found their way here to the blog), but I realized that not everyone has time to browse through blog posts. A wedding guide is a beautifully branded way to share all of the things my clients need to know to get the most out of their experience with us in one neat little package. It also has the added benefit of being really pretty! And seeing your work printed out never gets old;)

I created my guide using Photoshop and a template I bought from Design by Bittersweet on Etsy. The clean, modern lines of the template caught my eye immediately! Once I had the design in place, I ordered a sample of the book from MagCloud. I HIGHLY suggest ordering one as a proof first, before you order a ton of them. This way you can be sure everything prints out exactly the way you hoped it would. I’m glad I did, because after seeing it in person, I decided to add even MORE pages (to what was already a 60 page book) because I really wanted the book to feel like a thick, glossy magazine.

All in all, I’m happy that this project is almost ready to be wrapped up completely and that I will be able to get these out to my couples soon! I am really excited to share all of this information and inspiration!

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This time of year is the most difficult time of year for scheduling an engagement session…the weather is just so tricky and unpredictable! Case in point, Marlayna and Adam’s session was rescheduled several times before we finally got together on Valentine’s day to photograph the two of them! I was so happy to finally shoot this session because Marlayna is a photographer, so I knew it was going to be a lot of fun! Shooting photographers can be intimidating, but it’s also exciting because they have tons of fun ideas and are very trusting of the wacky things I might ask of them (like, hey, can you go into this random patch of woods that looks like the woods described in Serial? Or stand in the snow in a parking lot, please?)

I have to say that I am constantly surprised by winter sessions…I don’t know why I feel so creative and inspired by the winter, but there is something about my winter sessions the past couple of winters that really feels special to me. This one is no different!

We started out at their apartment, where we attempted photographs with their kitty, Zoe!

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That light! Unfortunately, it got cloudy seconds after this. :(

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Old Ellicott City is adorable!

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Our last stop was at the spot where Adam proposed. It’s just a quiet little field near their apartment, but as we got out of the car, it started snowing! How perfect??

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I feel like I’m never in the loop on when it’s supposed to snow! If I don’t have a shoot scheduled during the week, and I’m not training for anything running-wise, I almost never check the weather because I work from home. So when it started snowing yesterday afternoon, I was surprised…and then shocked when I finally saw the forecast that said we were supposed to get 6-8 inches! Of course, that’s not a lot for some people, but for us, that’s a significant snowfall and almost certainly guarantees a snow day.

Sometime last night I decided to grab my camera stuff and take a few images of John and I together in the snow. I rarely take portrait type photos with off camera flash and I hardly ever take photos of the two of us together besides a phone selfie here or there, but the opportunity presented itself and I just went for it. This year one of my goals has been saying “yes” to things that come my way, and I felt this was as good a time as any to put that goal to work!

How to take an epic snow selfie

 

It was cold, and the snow was CRAZY HEAVY but I’m so excited we did it!!! Here’s what I did to get this image, in case you’re interested in taking one yourself!

CAMERA SETUP
5d Mark III on a tripod with 50 1.2 attached. Camera settings ISO 1600, F/2.8, 1/100. To get this set up, I had John stand approximately where I wanted us to be in the photo, and I focused on him. For “selfies” like this, we use a remote and self timer. If you don’t have a remote, you can just use the self timer in a pinch, but having a remote makes it lots easier to pose yourselves, because you aren’t running back and forth! Just hide the remote! Haha. TIP: Using back button focus is important for selfies like this, because if your camera is set up to focus when you depress your shutter button half way, the camera will focus itself when you hit the remote. It’s better to do it manually and choose your own focus point.

FLASH SETUP
580 ex II on camera (pointed straight up, with white bounce card out to reflect a bit of light onto our faces), 480ex II behind us on a nightstand with an umbrella. 580EX was set to 1/8 + 0.3. the 430 was set to 1/8. You can read about my exact OCF setup more here and here, but in general, I put one flash behind us to illuminate the snow and create a second source of light so the background wasn’t completely black. The flash on camera was used to provide a little bit of fill, so the background wouldn’t be way brighter than our faces.

MY BEST TIP
The best tip for an epic selfie like this?? Take LOTS of photos. Since you can’t see what the image looks like (you can actually get an app for this though, if you have a 6D!!) you will want to take a bunch of photos to have a variety of options. This image was one of 20!

Got a question for me? Leave it in the comments, or shoot me an email!

If you love these posts, make sure you check out the For Photographers website with workshop and mentoring info! 

 

I feel like every so often I write a blog post that’s as much for my own benefit as it is for anyone else’s, and this is one of those posts, for sure. In writing this, my hope is that this post is able to hopefully help someone else feel like they’re not the only one dealing with this tough issue, but also so that when I’m feeling down, I can come here and read my own words reminding myself that it’s okay…we all go through it! I’ve struggled with dealing with rejection since the beginning of my journey as a photographer. Back when I first started out,  I thought it would get easier. I thought that once I built my business, I wouldn’t have to deal with rejection as much…and at the very least, it wouldn’t really hurt as much anymore.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think there ever really is a point when it stops hurting. Rejection is tough. Especially when you’re a small business owner. And particularly if you own a one person small business (as is common in the wedding industry) where you’re not only the name and the face behind the business, but the one who’s doing all the hard work behind the scenes that almost no one ever sees.

This is going to be one of those things that’s easier said than done (believe me!), but you have to learn to separate yourself from the “nos”. This is so tough, especially for business owners whose businesses are very individually driven, like wedding photography. My business is built on my skills, on who I am as a person, and what I’m able to offer. Sometimes hearing a no feels very personal and it does hurt. Who hasn’t had an amazing meeting with potential clients where you felt so awesome about it when you left only to hear that they ended up not picking you? It can be crushing, for sure. But it’s really important to try to remember that there are lots of reasons for getting a “no”, and you are no less wonderful, talented, and amazing because of that one, tiny word.

When you get a no, give yourself five minutes to feel bummed and sad about it, but then focus on the positives. It wasn’t meant to be. Something better may be on it’s way. And don’t forget about your “yeses”. Anytime I’m feeling particularly down or I try really hard to focus on all of the yeses I’ve gotten. Instead of dwelling on that sucky feeling, I try to consciously be grateful for all of the clients I do have and all of the features, etc that I’ve been lucky enough to have come my way. For me, this really puts things into perspective! I love to make lists, so when I feel sad after getting rejected, sometimes I will write out a physical list of things that make me feel really proud of myself as a business owner.

Another really tough thing about facing rejection as a sole member of a small business is that you often have to go through it completely alone. If you were working at a regular company (you know, one with a bunch of people working there) and a client chose to go with someone else, it might not sting as much because you’re not bearing the brunt of it by yourself. When I’m dealing with rejection, I share it with John, close friends, or sometimes other photographer friends. It feels good to talk about it, and to have someone else remind me all of the reasons why I shouldn’t be too bummed.

Speaking of John, I wrote a post a while back about how during the thick of training for my first half marathon, John told me he thought he could easily run it without training. It made me so mad and a little hurt, but I used those negative feelings I had to push myself and train even harder. When you feel rejected, let it make you stronger! Let that hurt transform you into a better business owner. Look at what you’re doing, make adjustments, and keep moving forward. Let it make you stronger.

Rejection is a part of life. And it’s a regular part of life as a business owner! When no one comments on your blog post or likes your photo, it’s easy to feel rejected. When a potential client decides to move forward with someone else, it can hurt. When you submit a wedding or shoot you really loved and it doesn’t get accepted, your ego may take a hit. Dealing with rejection is one of the toughest things I feel like I deal with related to the business, but I know that every single person out there also goes through the same thing. I want you to know that you’re not alone…we all get rejected and we all feel hurt by it. I can guarantee you every photographer, every planner, every florist, and every other entrepreneur out there does, no matter how successful or established their business is. You are NOT alone!