how to do a sparkler exit

We'll finish up our series on wedding photography locations around the Washington, D.C., area next week. Today, though, we're going to talk about sparklers! Yay! Specifically, how to do a beautiful sparkler exit when you leave your wedding reception.

I love sparkler exits. Love them! And so do weddings guests. People just seem to enjoy being handed something and told, "Here, now go light this on fire." And the end result is not only a fun end to the party for you and your guests; you also get stunning photos for your wall or wedding album.

Here's a sparkler exit from one of the weddings we coordinated last year, photographed by Amir West of Photo Fanatic. Gorgeous, no?


A sparkler exit is one of those things you really need to plan down to the last detail, though, for it to work well and safely. Here's what you need to know:

  • Talk with your venue manager to make sure they allow fireworks on their property. Even if it's legal, some locations prefer not to have the fire and/or injury risk. In fact, if a sparkler exit is a must-have for you, then you'll want to ask this question before you even book your venue.

  • Talk with your local authorities to make sure it's legal for you to have a sparkler exit. I can think of few more anticlimactic ways for a wedding reception to end than to have it shut down by the fire marshall. Don't assume that just because you've seen photos of sparklers in use at a previous function at your venue, or because you were at a local event where sparklers were used, it's okay. Unusually dry or windy weather can mean a temporary ban on fireworks, or it could be that the event you're thinking of wasn't using them legally. Do your homework. Your local fire or police department should be able to help you with this one.

  • Purchase your sparklers. You don't want the short sparklers like you played with when you were a kid — those are 10-inch sparklers, and each one burns out in less than a minute. You want bigger sparklers that give you a longer burn time. We recommend 36-inch sparklers to our couples. They can burn for up to four minutes, which gives your wedding coordinator enough time to get your guests arranged without any sparklers burning out.  Do a Google search for "36-in sparklers" and you'll find several retailers. Order enough of these big sparklers that you have one or two per guest, plus a few extra for your wedding coordinator to hold. He or she will light these first, so that your guests will have something from which to light theirs.

  • Purchase something to hold the sparklers both before and after they're lit. This needs to be something nonflammable, obviously. I like big galvanized tubs like this one from Home Depot:

  • Fill your big container with sand. Just plain old play sand, or sandbox sand, is perfect. You can find it at any hardware or home improvement store. Then, arrange your sparklers in the container with the handles in the sand and the flammable part sticking out.
  • When it's time for your sparkler exit, make an announcement to let the guests know they need to head outside to get a sparkler and form up for your exit. Better yet, get your DJ or your band to make the announcement, as they already have your guests' attention. Outside, your wedding coordinator and venue coordinator should already have lit a couple of sparklers apiece for your guests to use to light their own. They'll direct your guests to get a sparkler from the container, light it, then go stand in formation.

    This part is super important: DO NOT have a human being physically hand sparklers out to your guests. It's dangerous because that person will have to carry a big handful of the things and, while they seem innocuous (and usually are when used one at a time), having a lot of them in your hand can be very dangerous should they accidentally ignite. That's why we always direct guests to get their own sparklers from the container.
  • Once everyone's formed up with sparklers lit, you and your new spouse walk through and enjoy the moment then head out into married life.
  • After the sparkler exit is over, your wedding coordinator and venue coordinator will direct your guests to return their spent sparklers to the sand-filled container, this time putting them in handles up, so that the burned part goes into the sand.

One last note:  Be sure to let your photographer know that you'll be doing a sparkler exit. The bright sparklers in the dark night are a challenge that any professional photographer should be able to handle with no problem, but he or she will appreciate knowing about it in advance.

What kind of wedding exit are you planning? Are there any unique challenges associated with it? Do you have a great exit story from your own wedding? Tell us about it!

Photo of galvanized metal tub via Home Depot.