How To Improve Photography of Fire Performers, Part 2

Q: How To Take Better Photographs of Fire Performers?

A: Safety Third and Consent Always

   Xeina Abh  at Kiss Me Like The Ocean Breeze II, Brooklyn NY

 Xeina Abh at Kiss Me Like The Ocean Breeze II, Brooklyn NY


In the first part of How To Improve Photography of Fire Performers, we started with a very broad level topic and looked at how to improve your fire performer photography by trying to see through the lens as a photojournalist. Those elements involved capturing the effort made by a human being with something against adversity. As a sports photojournalist, that “something” is usually a ball, puck, shuttlecock, a javelin, their fists, or even themselves. As a fire-performer, that “something” is their prop: poi, dragon staff, fire fans, hula hoop, sword, scythe, or whatever else has been modified with appropriate wicking.

I’ll start by going out on a limb here. Camera settings, and the the type of camera, at this stage are mostly irrelevant. The most important element to be aware of, at all times, is not the flames, not all the cool tricks, flashy tech, the fire trails, burn offs, and dragon breaths. When photographing a fire performer, it is not the fire that matters. It’s the performer. 

In this next segment we’ll touch upon three things that will, hopefully, help keep your awareness squarely on the fire-performer where it belongs. We’ll look at safety third, and how to help them maintain safety third via consent.

No, seriously. Safety Third.

Safety Third:

Everyone is familiar with the idea of safety first. Always do things with safety in mind. There is a modification to that concept that performers, artists, photographers, contractors, and business operators keep in mind because of liability insurance reasons. In the layers of liability involved, their safety is not first. It is third. Their duty to protect always lies with:

The Alpha Betas burn their frat house down
  • 1st - The Audience. Don’t kill anyone. Protect the people who come to see a show, passers by, promoters, vendors, property owners, other performers, DJs, photographers, etc.
  • 2nd - The Venue. Don’t burn the fucking place to the ground.
Uploaded by Walsh Family on 2016-05-10.
  • 3rd - Yourself. Don’t die. Have safeties in place at all times. Know your equipment. Know your limits. Be fucking sober.
  • 4th - Equipment. It can always be repurchased, rebuilt, refabricated, repaired, or replaced. People can't.

Ah but wait — as a photographer trying to take good pictures of fire spinners, does safety third apply to you too?

It absolutely does! 

Don’t be this idiot.

  • 1st - The Audience. Don’t kill anyone, remember? You are part of their Safety First layer and they are part of your Safety First layer.
  • 2nd - The Venue. Don’t burn the fucking place to the ground. Don’t interfere with the performance. Don’t knock shit over. Don’t risk bumping into the performers. Don’t get high. Don’t get drunk. Don’t take too much 2CI.
  • 3rd - Yourself. Don't Die.
  • 4th - Equipment. Better to drop a lens than trip onto a performer. Better to fall on to your camera than knock fuel everywhere. Equipment can be replaced. People can’t.

How do you help each other to maintain each other’s Safety Third? You start with realizing that you and the performer(s) are both now a part of a dance together. How do you properly begin any dance? You always ask for consent from everyone. 

‘Nuff said. 

Consent Always

While most fire performances are outdoors, some are indoors. Unless you are clearly on any publicly owned way, you are most likely on private property, even if it is at an outdoor space. Photography of any public event, any person in a public way, and any person reasonably visible from a public location does not require consent to photograph as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy — this includes photography of law enforcement performing their duties publicly.

Consent is not needed to record or publicly post photographs in any medium that is used for commentary, editorial, satire, or any other newsworthy outlet. The 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution covers free expression and free press, after all.

When you are indoors, you are on private property and people legally have a reasonable expectation of privacy and your presence is always at the permission of the property owner. The property owner may have licensed those rights to their “agents, assigns, licensees, employees, tenants, promoters, performers” etc, but they and their liability insurance will always have final say in some form or another. The 1st Amendment ends at the boundaries of private property, because included in the bundle of rights afforded to property owners are the rights of control and enjoyment.

The 1st Amendment does not allow one to commit a crime in order to record images. There are right of privacy laws, two-party consent-to-record laws, wiretapping laws, libel, slander, defamation laws and more to consider. 

The simple point is that it is always best to ask permission of the property owner, the promoter, and the performer before pulling out a camera and snapping away, even if technically, there are no laws against it. I will always make a point of seeking out the promoter running an event, another photographer to find out who the promoter is, or the property owner first.

After gaining their consent, I will find the performers themselves, introduce myself, and ask if it is okay to take photos while they perform. I will also ask all parties if it is okay to post photos online, and if it is okay to link to the event. I will also ask people in the audience if they mind while I take photos near them.

In the interests of Safety Third, I will also ask consent to photograph from within the safety circle, and ask consent of the performers if I can use flash, and ask people in the audience if flash bothers them while I am next to them.

It’s just good practice to always ask for consent. Always.

Okay, now you are dancing with the fire performers. How do you continue the dance safely for everyone involved?

Combat shooting.


Starting with Part Three, I'll start giving my favorite tips and techniques on how to take better photos of fire performers.

Have you ever fired a rifle before? It helps.