The Grand Finale. The Sendoff. The Great Escape! Your departure from your reception is a key moment in your wedding day, and many couples place quite a bit of emphasis on planning a dramatic exit.

Given that evening and nighttime outdoor lighting conditions are unpredictable and that your guests have also had a long day, it’s a good idea to consider how much coordination your sendoff will require.

Do you plan to leave the reception at the height of the festivities, or are you going to stick it out with your die-hard core friends and family? You may decide to stage your “exit” at the ceremony venue, or during the ceremony recessional, leaving you free to decide how long you want to linger at the end of the reception.

If your setting is located in a public area, you’ll want your coordinator to manage any outside foot or vehicle traffic during your exit, and he or she will likely need help coaxing your guests into the frame, especially for exit scenes in which they play an important role.

Most of all, you’ll want to work with your photographer to determine ahead of time how it will all look in the final image. All seasoned wedding photographers know that this is one of the most challenging moments on their clients’ shot list, and have experienced the obstacles common with the most popular sendoffs. I encourage my clients to plan their exit as thoroughly as possible and to manage their expectations due to the many variables that can affect the success of their departure images.

Following are my thoughts on a few of the most popular exit themes.

The Fancy Car (or Carriage) Exit

You’ve borrowed or rented a classic car to whisk you away in style. This is a favorite for clients and photographers, as lighting and staging are somewhat predictable. Plus, when your friends and attendants are decorating your sweet ride, I love to pop over and take photos of the fun they’re having when you’re not looking and to get some great detail shots of the vehicle itself.


Enclosed vehicles are usually fairly straightforward, as I can use the interior to help control the lighting inside the cab using bounce flash and subtle, remote strobes.

Convertible vehicles aren’t too much of a challenge, day or night if I know where the driver will park, and if I have a predetermined vantage point from which to shoot. Here again, predicting how your guests will gather (or spread out) is key to success. Together we can come up with some quick ideas to personalize this traditional sendoff, including perhaps a quick stop around the corner for some final shots of the bride and groom without the crush of adoring guests.

Confetti: Flower Petals, Pom Poms, and Soap Bubbles

Ancient Romans pelted wedding couples with rice and other grains as a symbol of luck, fertility, and wealth. Since we have since learned that rice grains, in quantity, aren’t healthy for wild birds, the tradition has changed to incorporate everything from bird seed, flower petals and leaves to confetti, tiny pom poms, and soap bubbles. As your guests shower the bride and groom during their exit, I get to use various in-camera tricks to create a sense of motion and excitement, focusing on the couples’ elated faces while streaks of color convey the atmosphere of celebration.

Soap bubbles are fun for everyone, your photographer included. Aside from the stunning effects of the couple dashing through a sea of iridescent orbs, you’ll see older guests, dressed to the nines, blowing bubbles with the same enthusiasm as the little kids. From time to time I can get a shot that reflects detailed elements of the scene within the bubbles.


Ribbon Wands, Glowsticks, and Sparklers

Many venues don’t allow confetti, and some couples really want the excitement of motion in their images. Ribbon wants, glowsticks and sparklers are all options for festive sendoffs, each with their own special considerations.

Ribbon wands are a great choice for daytime departures, and kids love them. Opt for thin ribbon streamers, which are less likely to interfere with the photographer’s view when you walk between your guests. Glowsticks work well at night, though I will need to set up strobes to ensure the bride and groom are properly illuminated, as the phosphorescence doesn’t cast light very far. This is something to think about in very dark areas. How important is it to capture sharp images of your guests’ faces as you leave?


Sparklers are and always have been the bane of wedding photographers and coordinators. Careful planning is necessary to make sure they are quickly lit, safely used, and properly extinguished. Not all guests can participate, either, if you’re bunching your guests along your path; small children need a lot of space to safely use sparklers, and some seniors might lack the coordination and confidence to handle them. Since the sparklers provide lighting for your guests’ faces, these people might be left in the dark.

More so than with confetti-tosses, it’s important to properly stage your sparkler-waving guests as you depart your venue. The stark contrast between sparkler light and ambient light, balanced with background lighting from the venue, will require special planning on the part of your photographer and coordinator. And don’t forget to make sure your venue allows fireworks!

Lighting the Path to Romance: LED-Lit Balloons, Fairy Light Tunnels & Luminaria.

Have you considered marking your path with subtle lighting? Luminaria are paper bags weighted with sand and lit with tea lights, set down to mark pathways. Special balloons with LED bulbs inside them are becoming popular decorations, and as long as they are not at eye-level with guests they can add depth and charm to your departure shot. Another great idea is to create a tunnel of fairy lights by stringing the lights among arching foliage or along a wire framework.

Fixed illuminated objects create a romantic, leisurely mood, and allow your photographer to make the most of predictable, static lighting. As a bonus, the pre-placed lights act as guides for arranging your guests.

Helpful Tips:

  • I like to poke my head out shortly before the exit to get a feel for ambient lighting, so this is one of those times when it’s important that I have advance warning of a special wedding day moment. I also like to ask my clients to pause on a pre-determined mark during their exit so I can get a few shots without the added variable of forward motion. This is also a great time for the couple to show off with one last kiss!
  • Consider visual obstacles, available space and night-time safety hazards at the location where you will stage your exit. For effective “gauntlets” of guests, you’ll need plenty of room for them to line up in an outward funnel, without stacking up against buildings or stepping off precarious pathways.
  • Let your guests know about your departure, and the role they’ll play. Little notes attached to their “props” and a brief note in your printed programs will encourage guests to stick around and participate with minimal confusion.
  • Ensure your coordinator is aware of your departure plans, so any staging is managed efficiently and within the guidelines of your venue. I once had a bride and groom’s sparkler exit ruined because the guests lit the sparklers before my clients were even outside!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about your wedding day plans. As an experienced photographer, I’ve encountered many of the challenges I’ve discussed above, and I offer collaboration on capturing your own original ideas!