Welcome to the first post in my new series of real advice to help you plan your wedding day! As a wedding photographer, I see every imaginable situation you might run into on your wedding day. Usually, if there is a snag in the plan for the day, it’s pretty minor, and could have been avoided with a little bit of help or pre-planning. That’s where my series will come in – to help you identify and plan for potential hiccups on your wedding day! I’m going to kick off the series with a popular trend in weddings: the sparkler exit.

How to Plan a Perfect Sparkler Exit for Your Wedding

The sparkler exit and send-off has become extremely popular over the past few years. I’ve seen dozens, and I can share with you what works, and what doesn’t. On the surface, it seems like a simple and fun idea; buy a few dozen sparklers, line up your guests, and your photographer can take beautiful photos. However, there are a few recommendations I can make to ensure that your sparkler exit is executed perfectly.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do for a picture-perfect send-off, is have someone from the venue or your coordinator/planner help organize your guests at the end of your reception. Be sure to cover the plan with them in detail, as occasionally I will run into a planner who has never helped with a sparkler exit previously. By having someone in charge of lining up your guests and instructing them on when to light their sparklers, and what to do after they are burnt out, you are greatly increasing your chances for the perfect exit. Your coordinator will work alongside your photographer to make the whole process run smoothly.

Buy the Right Sparklers!

Another key, and possibly the second most important point of this post: buy the LONG sparklers. Tons of websites sell them specifically for weddings. There are many reasons I can think of why the longer sparklers are better, including they simply burn longer. The result is more time for your guests to all light their sparklers, and for you to make your exit. It’s also good to note that special sparklers tend to produce less smoke. I’ve seen couples use the typical sparklers you buy around Independence Day, and they burn fast and give off so much smoke, you can hardly see!

As you have your trusted coordinator or staff member line up your guests, be sure to tell them to not light them until they are given the “go”. It might seem like this is intuitive, but trust me when I say it isn’t. Ask your coordinator to not start lighting the sparklers until you are ready to make your exit, and you may want to ask staff to start lighting from both ends of your lines, especially if you have a lot of guests. I find that the long candle or grill style lighters work the best to get the lines started, and most of the guests will light their sparklers off the person beside them.

Speaking of lining up your guests, the best sparkler exit photos have a good amount of distance between the two lines. The wider apart your lines, the more room there is for you to (safely) exit. While making your exit down the “tunnel” of light created by your guests, take your time. Be sure to pause in the middle for a kiss, and when you reach the end, pose a moment for your photographer.

A Final, Important Note

Finally, safety first at all times. Following your exit, be sure that your coordinator or staff have a place to safely dispose of the extinguished sparklers. And if they see a guest behaving in an unsafe manner, they should immediately put a stop to it. Unfortunately, accidents do happen with sparkler exits, and sometimes they are severe. I have personally stepped in a few times when a guest has almost burned another guest, or even me. Also, be sure to have plenty of sand-filled buckets to dispose of the used sparklers. Safety, always!

A sparkler exit can be a lot of fun, and result in beautiful, memorable photographs. I hope these tips are helpful as you plan your special send-off! Here’s two of my favorite sparkler exit photos ever! You can see more from Elise and Alvin’s wedding day here.

How to Plan the Perfect Sparkler Exit for Your Wedding DayHow to Plan the Perfect Sparkler Exit for Your Wedding Day

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A Beautiful Day for a Thomas Birkby House Wedding

Elise and Alvin could not have asked for a more beautiful wedding day! After a wet and chilly spring, June announced that summer was here to stay with two gorgeous, sunny weekends in a row! This was my first Thomas Birkby House wedding, and I was excited to be photographing this romantic and historic venue, nestled in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. Elise had sent several photographs of the Birkby House, but I was not prepared for how much I was going to love it!! It is a truly wonderful wedding venue, and I can see why they chose it for their special day.

The bride and her bridesmaids prepared in the ladies’ suite, while the gentlemen kept tucked away in their own lounge. The afternoon was filled with tender and emotional moments, especially when the Elise and Alvin exchanged letters to one another before the ceremony. It is one of my favorite wedding traditions!!! Another favorite of mine: the first look between the bride and her father. It’s always a very tender and sweet moment, and usually a happy tear or two makes an appearance.

When the time came for the ceremony to start, Alvin seemed to be more excited than nervous. Emotions took over when he saw his bride walking down the aisle. Happy tears and a BIG smile! Elise’s father officiated their wedding ceremony, Alvin’s dad was his best man (and took his ring duties very seriously) and all four parents participated in a special blessing of their marriage. 

After the ceremony, we took a short time for formal and fun portraits, because you couldn’t help but have a good time with this bridal party! The best part of a wedding at Thomas Birkby House: you don’t have to go far for amazing portrait locations and gorgeous light, even in the middle of the day! We literally never walked more than 20 yards from the front door of the house for any of the photos, and still had lots of opportunity for variety and fun!

Of course, the perfect way to cap off the evening would be a sparkler exit.  The perfect way to send off the new couple after their wedding day!! Congratulations, Elise and Alvin! May everyday be as filled with love and laughter as this day was!

Venue: Thomas Birkby House, Leesburg, VA

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I’ve been going through my archives of wedding images lately, cleaning out duplicate images and updating hard drives and off-site backups, and I came across this wedding that I second shot with Jen Harvey Photography in August of 2014. Jess + Justin had such a gorgeous wedding day, and it was such an honor to be a part of capturing it with Jen! For some reason, I’ve seen a lot of people mentioning Cape Charles lately, so this morning, I knew I needed to blog these images. Maybe it’s the winter weather that has us all wishing for the warmer days on the shore!

Jess + Justin’s wedding day was the very definition of laid-back elegance. If I could go back in time and plan my own wedding, I would aim for a very similar feel. Every detail was perfect, from the the reception decor to the flowers to the food. And let’s talk about the venue….Cape Charles is a gorgeous area, and Kings Creek Marina & Resort is the perfect location! The ceremony was held overlooking the water and stunning views. We could not have asked for a better wedding day for these two!! I think my favorite part of the day was the sunset. The sky was just glowing with the prettiest pinks and corals you’d ever seen!

Thank you, Jen, Jess, and Justin! Jen – I always love working with you! Jess and Justin – you were so friendly, fun, and welcoming, it was like we’d known each other for a very long time. I hope you smile everyday like you did on your wedding day!

To see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen HarveyTo see more from Jess + Justin's Wedding Day, please visit my friend, Jen Harvey


For more photos from this fun Kings Creek Marina Wedding in Cape Charles, please visit my friend, Jen Harvey Photography!

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You’re Engaged! Congratulations!


You’ve been planning your wedding day for months, or maybe you’ve just started. You’ve booked your wedding photographer, your venue, church, florist and caterer. You have binders and notebooks full of checklists, notes, questions to ask your vendors. You’ve clipped articles from magazines and printed them out from wedding blogs. You don’t want to miss any detail, because this is the most important day of your
life, so far! But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: your wedding vendors are here to help! We know you probably haven’t planned a wedding before, so a lot of this is unfamiliar territory. We also want your day to be absolutely perfect! We have years of experience, and we’re happy to share it with you! Let us take some of that stress off your shoulders and ease your wedding planning burden.

I’m going to tell you another secret: wedding vendors generally hate those lists you see in magazines and on blogs outlining 150 things you should ask a potential wedding vendor. Especially as a wedding photographer, it is important for us to get to know your vision for your wedding day, and learn more about you as a couple, and it’s very difficult to do that when we spend all of our time together talking about what software we use. So I’ve put together a little list of some questions you should never ask your wedding photographer, and what you might consider asking instead.
What to avoid asking your wedding photographer!

10 Questions to Never Ask Your Wedding Photographer

  1. Can my friend/cousin/aunt/neighbor who has a really nice camera and wants to try wedding photography shadow you?
    So, I guess I’ll just jump to one of the tough ones right off the bat. Believe it or not, almost every wedding I am asked this question. As much as I love working with those who are interested in wedding photography, or just getting started in the industry, your wedding day is not the time or place for those conversations to happen. There are several reasons why, but let’s focus on the most important one: YOU. This is your day, the day you marry the man or woman of your dreams, surrounded by all your loved ones and friends. You handselect vendors to participate in that day and bring your vision to life. It is my job to be focused on capturing those moments, and that is difficult for me to do if I’m mentoring an up-and-coming photographer, or even just allowing someone to “shoot over your shoulder”. (There are more issues with that as well, but let’s keep it brief, for now.)
    What should you ask instead? My friend/cousin/aunt/neighbor is really interested in learning more about wedding photography; would you mind if I put them in touch with you, and maybe they could treat you to lunch one day soon?DC-Wedding-Photographer-2016-002
  2. Will you take “table shots”?
    Once a very popular request, this still sometimes comes up – usually after some prompting by an older relative. The idea is to capture every guest at the wedding in at least one image, and naturally, during dinner seems like the ideal time. It is my studio policy to not take photos during the meal. Why? For starters, no one looks their best with a mouth full of food, and most people feel very uncomfortable having a camera shoved in their face while they are trying to enjoy the excellent menu you have selected for your wedding. Additionally, tables are usually pretty messy by the time meals are served – cluttered with centerpieces, drinks, favors, clutches or purses belonging to female guests, half-eaten appetizers, etc. I also take the meal time as an opportunity for myself and assistants to refuel as well (see the next question).
    What should you ask instead? Having a photo of everyone in attendance is really important to us, how would you plan to achieve that?
  3. Do we have to feed you?
    Yes, believe it or not, I get asked this question. Think about it this way: on your wedding day, there is one vendor who is literally with you from start to finish – your wedding photographer. We are carrying lots of gear, up to 100 pounds at times, with few breaks. We need to refuel! A few short breaks to rehydrate and grab a quick snack are important, but even more critical is a dinner break. For the most efficient flow to the evening, I usually request that we are served right after the bridal party is served, so that we are ready to get back in the action when you are!
    What should you ask instead? Chicken or beef? Do you have any allergies?DC-Wedding-Photographer-2016-001
  4. Do we get the RAW files?
    A RAW file is a largely misunderstood concept. However, many of those “lists” suggest you ask your wedding photographer if you are provided with the RAW files from your wedding day. A RAW file is exactly that – raw, like an uncooked piece of meat. You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and ask for a raw filet mignon! A RAW image is an unfinished product of no use to you.  I personally review each RAW image, select only the images that meet my studio’s artistic and technical standards. I process each selected RAW file in my carefully developed workflow to result in a beautifully perfected memory to be cherished for generations.
    What should you ask instead? What finished image products are included in our collection, and what permissions are included? (Each wedding photographer has different offerings within their business model, so the actual product provided will vary.)
  5. Have you ever shot in a dark church before?
    Alright, so this question is a little bit of a gray area. I would rather just give you a little hint on how to properly phrase this question, because it is a valid concern when working with any wedding photographer!
    What should you ask instead? Describe your venue and specific concerns you have with lighting conditions. Occasionally your venue coordinators will be helpful in pointing out potential issues with lighting. Most photographers will have experience in a wide range of lighting conditions, and will be able to overcome any potential challenges, as well as be honest about their own concerns regarding your venue/lighting.DC-Wedding-Photographer-2016-003
  6. Can you just photoshop that out later?
    Ahhhh….the most dreaded of all questions! Photoshop (and other editing software) provides a wedding photographer with an amazing tool, but as with any tool, it can be overused and misused. Personally, I prefer to avoid over “‘Shopping” someone into an unrecognizable version of themselves. There are many debates over the ethics of photo manipulation. If you’re ever in the mood for some heavy reading, just pop over and check out this Google search.
    What should you ask instead? How do you minimize the appearance of XYZ in your photos? How do you fix potential issues in your post production? Can we request additional editing after we receive our images? (Alternatively, if you have a particular situation that you are sensitive about, please do not hesitate to approach it with your photographer! Most wedding photographers are well-versed in posing to accentuate your strengths and minimize those things you’re not as fond of.)
  7. We’re on a tight budget – can you match so-and-so’s price?
    Another tricky question! Wedding photography has a wide range of prices, offerings, and skill level, and will vary by location. In addition to finding a wedding photographer whose work you love, I think it is equally important that you connect with them on a personal level. I know that the almighty dollar drives our great country, however, and there will be instances where a couple may feel they have to choose between one photographer and another based mostly on price. The reality is, though they may seem similar in style, personality, and other ways – their businesses may have different expenses, different models, etc. We don’t pick numbers out of a hat, or throw a dart at a chart, or base our numbers on what other photographers charge. We calculate what we need to charge to run our business. As much as a wedding is an emotional event, and as much as I connect emotionally with every one of my couples, I do have to remind myself that warm fuzzies don’t pay the bills.
    What I recommend instead:  If you are truly down to choosing between a few photographers, and budget is really a sticking point, ask yourself, Who did I connect with the most? Whose work speaks to me? Reach out to that photographer, let them know you are at a sticking point, and can you make some changes to the collection to reach your target budget. To be honest, sometimes it is possible, and sometimes it is not. But it doesn’t hurt to ask! I personally try to work with each couple to achieve the best coverage I can offer for their budget.Virginia-Wedding-Photographer-2016-001
  8. Here’s our Pinterest board of 3,000 images. Can you take all of these?
    Most of the Pinterest boards I’ve been sent have a little bit of everything on them. Styles, lighting, colors, time of day, etc. is all over the place. I love Pinterest for inspiration, and I use it a lot myself! (You can actually check out my boards here!) The trouble is, when I spend a lot of time on your wedding day dedicated to replicating your Pins, your resultant images are not authentic memories of your day. Often, it’s also difficult to reproduce that exact scenario! I prefer to take a unique approach to each wedding day, and make it your story.
    What should I ask instead? I have a few photos I’ve pinned on Pinterest. Would you mind taking a look and telling me how you think we could capture a similar mood or epic shot on my wedding day?
  9. Why won’t you guarantee every shot on our shot list?
    Shot lists are great. I love them; I use them – for family & wedding party formals, and that is about it. So, why? The best moments happen organically, in my humble opinion. Beyond the planned posed photos, I like to capture the moments as they happen. If I have to worry about checking off a box, I might miss an amazing moment between the bride and grandma. I also have years of experience with weddings, so I have a pretty good idea of what to be on the lookout for, and when to expect certain moments to occur. While I do work from a shot list for your formal group photos, I still do not guarantee that we will capture every single group listed. We may run out of time, or we may be unable to find someone listed, or any number of unpredictable situations may occur.
    What should I ask instead? We have a handful of very important family photos we would like taken. What is the best way to ensure we can get those, and how can we help you?
  10. What equipment do you use?
    The Number One Reason You Don’t Want To Ask This Question: I’ll go all geeky nerd techie on you. Really, camera gear is pretty technical and boring, and even more important, beyond having amazing gear, you need to know how to use it. I ensure that all my gear – cameras, lenses, lighting, etc. is up to current professional/technical standards, maintained, and ready to go. I have backups with me at every wedding, as do my second photographers. (I believe every wedding photographer needs to have a backup plan should something happen to their main camera body!) If you really want to know what I shoot with, I can show you, but I promise after about 5 minutes, your eyes will glaze over.
    What should I ask instead? Are you comfortable with your gear, and have a backup should the unthinkable happen?Virginia-Wedding-Photographer-2016-002

As your chosen wedding photographer, I would love to speak with you in more detail about any questions you have! I hope this list answers a few of the questions you may have had, provides you with a bit more information as you plan for your wedding, and acts as a helpful guide. Remember, your vendors are here to help and provide insight from our past experience!

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