Let’s talk about wedding sendoffs. They’re referred by many different names and “wedding sendoffs” might be the most formal. Some people simply call it a wedding exit. Or, what I’ve heard the most is a sparkler exit, but in this case you’d specifically be using sparklers.
Whatever you call it, this wedding reception activity generally involves a bride and groom walking through a tunnel of their guests outside of their reception venue late into the evening as they’re ready to call it a night.
It’s a fun and dramatic activity, not just for the couple, but also for all their guests. But, not everyone does it.
I want to talk about it, because I’ve actually had wedding sendoffs in my last three weddings, whereas before that I believe I only had one or two in my first five years of full time weddings!
But, why isn’t this more popular? You’d think walking through a tunnel of lights would be a must-have activity for any couple.
Well, the biggest drawback or hindrance for couples is that they simply don’t want to leave their reception.
Why would they leave their parties at 9 pm, when the venue doesn’t close down till midnight and they’re missing out on precious time they paid for, either through the venue or the hiring of their DJ? Those last hours are fun times where they can finally cut loose and relax with some drinks and dance as much as they’d like.
Leaving early can also be a buzzkill for your guests. Whether you mean to or not, they may assume the party is over at that point and start packing up their things. Even if you’d want them to stay, they may not be interested in staying since they came to see you as well.
Well, in my experience there is a simple acceptable alternative to this problem and that is to not leave.
In two of my last weddings: the couples have had the DJ announce their sendoff, but also say explicitly that they’re doing this for the photos and to have fun, but that they’re going to be back on the dance floor in no time.
From what I’ve seen, the guests were more than happy to oblige. Even the most enthusiastic dancer is happy to take a break for a song or two and this gives the more socially conservative guest another activity to do, one that pries them away from their table or close-knit group and interacting with other guests.
And, lighting sparklers has been just as much fun for the guests as it has been for the couple, especially if they have children at the wedding. Children love this part.
In most of my cases, the couples have basically booked me to a certain time and then scheduled the wedding sendoff right at that time.
If I was scheduled to leave at 9 pm, then the sendoff was at 9 pm, or if I was to finish at 8 pm, it was 8 pm. It was the last event I photographed before packing up my equipment.
Not every wedding sendoff is a sparkler exit. In my last three weddings, I’ve only had one exit that actually used sparklers. The other two had lighted candles held by the guests and the other used bubbles. You can also use confetti, balloons or chinese lanterns or you can throw rice or wave glow sticks.
If you can imagine it, it can be done either with something that lights up or something that can be thrown or travel through the air.
Here’s another article you can use to brainstorm.
Tips on a successful exit
There are few crucial tips to keep in mind to have a successful grand exit.
The first and most important tip is for the sparkler exit and that is about lighting them.
To get the best effect and the best pictures you need all the sparklers lit at once and the truth is that sparklers are very hard to light when it’s not from another sparkler.
The best technique is to have your guests light their sparklers in groups of five or six. Group the end of the sparklers altogether and try to light all of them or any of them. Once you’ve lit one, the other five or six or more sparklers can light their sparklers off of that one.
Once a whole group is lit, have them look down the line and see if any other people or groups need help lighting theirs.
You have to work fast, because if you try to pass the light down the line or wait for everyone to light their sparklers from a lighter then those that are lit first will burn out before even half of the entire line has been lit.
The second tip is to keep the lines close together. For the absolute best result you don’t want any more than five to six feet between the lines. This way you’ll form that tunnel pattern. Especially, if you are blowing bubbles or tossing something small that close proximity will make the bubbles or confetti look like a larger amount.
The last thing you want is for the lines to be so far apart that the amount of bubbles or confetti to come out looking sparse and meager in the photos. The point is to overwhelm the couples with whatever you’re using, so it’s more fun and exciting.
Also, make sure that you don’t schedule your sendoff too late. If you’re still going to stay around for awhile, don’t schedule the sendoff at 10 pm, just because your photographer will still be at the reception. Scheduling it too late and a lot of older guests or ones with kids and families will have departed and you’ll find yourself looking at the sendoff and wondering where half of your guests have gone.
Remember, the point is to have a lot of action going on and that includes more people. If you see the crowd starting to thin early, feel free to tell the DJ to move it up on the schedule.
My final tip is the most important for photos and that is to not run! You may be tempted to do this, but you have to resist. Getting great exit photos is a tricky process, because it’s usually at night and as the photographer you’re backing up and there are a lot of different light sources to balance. So when a couple runs straight at you, there’s a chance you might miss the entire thing.
Instead of running, walk at a leisurely pace down the tunnel and stop two to three times to pose for a picture or to look at or kiss each other.
My best photo I got at my last sparkler exit was when the couple stopped and gave each other a kiss. That slowed everything down enough that I was able to get the couple in focus and really nail the moment.
Also, since you’re not leaving anyway, try an encore and walk down the tunnel twice or three times. If you’ve lit your sparklers all at once, you should have plenty of times to give it another go and something for the guests to do while they wait for their sparklers to burn out. That’ll also give your wedding photographer another chance to get a perfect shot.
For more information on planning your wedding day, check out my post about putting together a photography timeline for your day.
Locations: Fountain Banquet Hall in Sturtevant, Wisconsin; Barn at Pioneer Acres in Richfield, Wisconsin; The Barn at Homestead Hollow in Germantown, Wisconsin