Portrait Photography With a Wall of Fire - Prototype and Field Test

Portrait Photography During a Backyard Birthday Party

MONTAGUE, MA - If you have been following my photography work lately, it should be obvious that my favorite subject is fire photography. It's a photography niche that I fell into back in 2010, when I began hanging out with fire spinners and performers in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Since then, I've interviewed and photographed fire dancers in order to produce photography and web content for a feature newspaper story on Western Massachusetts Fire Performers that I pitched to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. I've been sure to find the fire performer circles at festivals and events in order to continue producing the best fire photography I can for my own fun and for their promotional material. At events I try to give other photographers the best tips and tricks for taking better photos of fire performers whenever I can. I've even started to write a blog series in order to share my favorite techniques for fire photography that I've learned over time. Yes, I consider myself an experienced fire performer photographer. I admit to a certain level of pride in that. 

Recently, I've been playing with a light-painting technique to create a wall of fire as a background for a portrait session. I'd been wanting to do something involving fire performers that was outside of my typical live performance, photojournalistic style, of fire photography. The inspiration for the wall-of-fire came from this entry on Petapixel and I made some small changes to the overall technique, and improvised other changes: Different fuel, slightly different strobe set up, different theme, and subject. My hope was to bring out the different personalities of the performers with or without their favorite props.

For this first series of photos, I had purchased all the materials that I figured I would need and at the last minute was gifted a six-foot length of kevlar wick by one of my long time fire performer friends just before I arrived at a backyard birthday party. I wanted to make sure the flash output was consistent, rather than variable via eTTL, so I took some test shots with a voice activated lightstand-and-flashgun set to a fixed distance. Literally, I set the flash to manual, dialed in a power setting, then set camera ISO/Aperture/Shutter to taste, opened the shutter and said "Fire!" to my hapless assistant.

After that, I set the flash into place and set it to trigger from my main flash, mounted on camera. We did a couple of live walk throughs with another assistant pretending to light the wick, and walking to where he would extinguish the wick, with safeties in place in order to get comfortable with the vocal commands, and the timing. Not difficult to do since the party itself was full of experienced fire performers celebrating the birthday of one of their own. From there we lit the wick itself for a final test shot without, and then with, the flash while tweaking camera settings to get a feel for them.

Needless to say, once the wick was lit and the first test shots were shown I suddenly had a very excited, and very willing, party of folks eager to get some amazing portraits done!